What is the impact of the Uber Tribunal decision on the employment status of delivery drivers?

Posted on: December 2nd, 2016

So what’s this all about?

Unless you have been hiding under a rock, it’s unlikely you’ll have missed the headline news that two Uber drivers were found by the Employment Tribunal to be workers and that they should receive the national living wage plus holiday pay and breaks.

Newspaper headlines have jumped on this case with exaggerated statements such as “landmark ruling”. However, this is not ‘new law’. The Employment Tribunal has simply applied the existing law to the Uber business model and the specific circumstances of the two individuals that brought the claims.

What is the difference between an employee and a worker?

A worker is an individual who has entered into or works under:

  1. a contract of employment; or
  2. any other contract, whether express or implied and (if it is express) whether oral or in writing, whereby the individual undertakes to do or perform personally any work or services for another party to the contract whose status is not by virtue of the contract that of a client or customer of any profession or business undertaking carried on by the individual.

An employee is an individual who works under a contract of employment.

So all employees are workers but not all workers are employees. This is sensible as employees have the same rights as workers and more.

Why is it plastered all across the news?

The real reason for this is that it makes for good headlines. Uber is well-known following its rapid rise as a tech company and has expanded outside London, including into Hampshire and Sussex. Uber has become a £50 billion company from starting only six years ago.

The development of technology has unlocked the potential for new takes on old business models. Fundamentally, companies like Uber, Deliveroo and Airbnb enable the average Joe to work in industries that would ordinarily be too costly and time-consuming to set up, manage and profit from as individuals.

The future

There are four other cases involving companies with drivers, motorcyclists and/or cyclists facing claims regarding employment status: CitySprint, Addison Lee, eCourier and Excel. All of these cases are supported by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain.

If I were a gambler, from the information I’ve gleaned form these cases, I’d bet on the drivers being found as workers too. Not off the back of the Uber case, but on the basis of the decades old case law.

Uber calls its drivers “partners” and said they could “could become their own boss”. No matter how much marketing bluster companies put forward, the law will still be applied in the same way it always has done – by judges in a court room. This has been emphasised in the Uber case where the tribunal said “any organisation…resorting in its documentation to fictions, twisted language and even brand-new terminology, merits, we think, a degree of scepticism.”

For further information, please contact Amy Richardson,  Associate Solicitor in our Employment team on amyrichardson@coffinmew.co.uk  or 0333 000 0122.