The Supreme Court has delivered their long awaited decision in Uber BV and others v Aslam and others – and hinged on whether workers were employees, workers or self employed.  The Court’s ruling that drivers are workers has massive implications for the UK’s thriving gig economy.

The landmark decision concludes a long battle which began at the employment tribunal in October 2016, where Uber drivers were found to hold worker status. Uber’s subsequent appeals to the Employment Appeal Tribunal, the Court of Appeal and now the Supreme Court have proved unsuccessful and as a result, Uber drivers will now receive whistleblowing protection and are now entitled to be paid the national minimum wage, holiday pay and rest breaks.

Alan Lewis, partner with Constantine Law says,

“There have been cases in other countries about the status of Uber drivers. In March 2020, for instance, a French court decided that Uber drivers were not self-employed. In UK law there is employee, worker or self-employed status.  In French law there is no separate worker status so the court ruled that Uber drivers were employees.

Lewis explains that this will impact on a large number of other claims currently awaiting resolution:

“There have already been many claims issued in the employment tribunal by Uber drivers for holiday pay and national minimum wage. Those claims have been postponed until this Supreme Court decision and will now proceed to hearing unless they are settled.  Besides a potential cost to Uber which it is estimated could easily top £100million, this decision will have huge implications for the rights of what we estimate to be more than 5 million UK gig economy workers.

“It adds to the weight of judicial authority, building on cases such as Autoclenz and Pimlico Plumbers, that has emphasised the need to rely less on the written contractual terms and more on what happens in reality when considering questions such as: Who controls what goes on? Who takes the financial risk? Who supplies the equipment required to perform the tasks? Is there an unfettered right for the individual to appoint a substitute to carry out the work?”

Shah Qureshi, London Head of Employment at national law firm Irwin Mitchell said:

“The ruling is significant, not just for their rights, but the wider gig economy and workers in non-traditional employment.

“The court was clear that determining a worker’s status involves statutory legislation as the starting point and not the contract. Questions of status will be determined by the reality of the working relationship. If the courts decide they are workers, it doesn’t matter what the contract terms say”.

“This means Uber and others in the gig economy will find it difficult to restructure as a means to prevent similar findings in future, because the court will look at the reality of the relationship between the parties and not just a written agreement or the labelling of the relationship.”

Michelle Hobbs, employment law expert at Stevens & Bolton LLP, said that Uber will now need to review other areas of their business, saying

“With their new-found status, these drivers now also have the right to bring discrimination claims against their multinational employer. Uber would therefore be wise to review all its practices and ensure there are not additional grounds for costly court cases!”

“For the thousands of other gig economy businesses, the decision is a devastating blow to their bottom lines, especially as most of them are already running on empty in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.  This landmark ruling undoubtedly revs up the pressure on gig economy businesses to provide much better terms and conditions to those working for them.”

Award-Winning CEO Coach and Founder of AI Coaching tool Vic Your Coach, Peter Ryding, believes that Uber and other gig employers must now mend fences and re-engage their people after the protracted battle:

“When employer disputes reach the court room, there is inevitably fallout which damages both the business reputation and working relationships. Now the status of gig workers is clear, gig employers need to let HR champion the recovery, with a budget for re-engaging and investing in their people, inspiring them, rewarding them, upskilling them – and this is at least as important as paying the legal bills.  This will help Uber heal any residual damage and will help employers create a strong brand and a positive culture where every individual feels valued.”

 

By Lisa Baker, Senior Editor

Senior Editor Lisa Baker is the owner of Need to See it Publishing Group, providing contract news for business and news sites across the UK. Lisa is an experienced HR writer and commentator, editing HR publications for more than 5 years.