On February 19, 2021, the UK Supreme Court released its ruling that Uber drivers should be classified as workers instead of as self-employed for employment law purposes.
The decision may have significant ramifications for gig economy workers and the companies that engage them. The case is discussed here.
Court proceedings began in 2016 when two Uber drivers (Mr Aslam and Mr Farrar), and others, took the company to an employment tribunal arguing that they should be treated as workers and not as self-employed contractors. This would entitle them to certain employment rights unavailable to the self-employed, such as statutory holiday pay and guaranteed pay at least the national minimum wage.
The tribunal decided that the claimants were indeed "workers". This was because, among other things, they had limited rights to sub-contract, they had little choice over whether they accepted work, and there were significant controls over how the work should be carried out.
Supreme Court decision
Following unsuccessful appeals by Uber to the Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court heard the company's final appeal in July 2020.
In its judgment, the Supreme Court said the important issue was whether the workers were providing services for Uber London or whether, as Uber contended, they should be regarded as performing services solely and under contracts made with passengers through the agency of Uber London.
The Supreme Court decided the workers were providing services for Uber and emphasised five aspects of the employment tribunal's decision in reaching its conclusion:
The remuneration paid to drivers for the work they do is fixed by Uber and the drivers have no say in it (other than by choosing when and how much to work).
The contractual terms on which drivers perform their services are dictated by Uber.
Although drivers have the freedom to choose when and where to work, a driver's choice about whether to accept requests for rides is constrained by Uber.
Uber exercises a significant degree of control over the way in which drivers deliver their services.
Uber restricts communication between passenger and driver to the minimum necessary to perform the particular trip and takes active steps to prevent drivers from establishing any relationship with a passenger capable of extending beyond an individual ride.
In the latest ruling, the Supreme Court also found the claimants were still working for Uber during any period when they had the Uber app switched on and were able and willing to accept assignments, in line with the initial findings of the Employment Tribunal.