On Friday 19 February 2021, the Supreme Court handed down its judgment on the appeal by Uber against the Court of Appeal’s decision that their drivers were ‘workers’ rather than self-employed.
The Supreme Court unanimously rejected the appeal and found that Uber drivers are not self-employed but have ‘worker’ status which entitles them to many employment rights such as holiday pay, National Minimum Wage and more.
When looking at the judgement it’s important to remember that these decisions are reached by carefully analysing all the circumstances of each particular case. This analysis will often uncover factors pointing to different conclusions and this was true in the Uber case.
Although the fare was determined by Uber, the services agreement describes it as a ‘recommended amount’ which the driver could choose to reduce (but not increase) without the agreement of Uber. Uber would pass on the fare to the driver, less a ‘service fee’, calculated as a percentage of the fare.
Uber argued, as they have at every stage of the appeal process, that previous findings were incorrect as they involved disregarding, without any legal justification, “the clear and unambiguous terms of the written agreements”.
The Supreme Court’s ruling that Uber’s drivers are workers could have a huge impact on the millions of people who work as part of the flexible ‘gig economy’ in the UK, giving them access to more rights. And, by extension, will have far-reaching implications for the businesses that employ/use them.
The question of employment status is one that’s long been bubbling in the background, with the government’s programme of changes, the Good Work Plan, being a response to this evolution in some working practices. The Good Work Plan aims to provide greater protections to those working under more flexible arrangements – classed as ‘workers’. It implemented its first reforms back in April 2019 and since then, has significantly increased business owners’ obligations to workers, particularly around contracts and pay arrangements. Further reforms are to be introduced in due course.
However, the ruling doesn’t mean that everyone who works under a flexible arrangement is a worker – as each set up is different and will be assessed on those individual arrangements.
Instead, it shows just how important the reality of the working relationship is in establishing employment status, it’s not just about what’s contained in a contract or service agreement. Further, it should be remembered that even though this case was considering whether the Uber drivers were workers, in some cases the reality of the relationship might even mean that the person is classed as an employee. For example, factors such as the person being required to work when they are asked to and there being significant control over how they do the work, could point towards an employment relationship and even greater employment rights.
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