“Uber is coming” – the defining of an employee – Part 1

The case against Uber begins on 20 July in the Employment Tribunal. The case hinges on whether Uber is considered to be an employer – the claimants stating that the nature of the business and the control the business has over its drivers means the drivers should have certain Employment Law rights.

Uber, the revolutionary taxi company, has taken the world by storm, not just for its “app” services – customers input the details of their trip, pay by card and track the journey by phone – but for its innovative business model. It is apparently coming to the Highlands soon!

For drivers, Uber offers the chance to set their own hours, driving when they want and need to. One perceived benefit for customers is that they will have greater control over the cost of a journey. The potential downside is that traditional taxi companies are subject to regulation whereas Uber are less so. Uber has also been involved in well-publicised litigation with its drivers, notably in California and Massachusetts and now in the UK.

The case brought by GMB Union Uber drivers, centres around whether the conditions of work undertaken for the company mean that the drivers are not self-employed. Very briefly, the amount of control Uber has over its drivers means the drivers are workers rather than self-employed. Accordingly, they contend that they are entitled to certain benefits. Uber on the other hand argues that the drivers are “partners” and so are not entitled to workers’ rights. They assert that they merely put drivers in touch with customers as a technology company.

GMB states “Uber not only pays the drivers but it also effectively controls how much passengers are charged and requires drivers to follow particular routes. As well as this, it uses a ratings system to assess drivers’ performance.”
The drivers state that they are entitled to:
• National minimum wage;
• Statutory entitlement to paid holidays;
• Rest breaks ensured by Uber – this has been raised as a matter of Health and safety;
• Adherence to legal standards on disciplinary procedures and grievances – there are allegations of suspension or deactivation following complaints of unlawful treatment.

GMB states “We believe that it’s clear from the way Uber operates that it owes the same responsibilities towards its drivers as any other employer does to its workers. In particular, its drivers should not be denied the right to minimum wage and paid leave.”

The outcome of this case will undoubtedly have a huge impact on employment law. Macleod & MacCallum will be following its progress. Please contact catriona.sutherland@macand.co.uk if you would like to know more.

July 21, 2016