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Supreme Court rules Uber drivers are workers not self-employed

The UK Supreme Court issued their judgment this morning in the case of Uber BV v Aslam [2021] UKSC 5. This is a monumental decision in protecting the employment rights of gig economy workers in the United Kingdom.

In 2015, Mr Yaseen Aslam and Mr James Farrar, who were employed as drivers for Uber, brought a claim to the Employment Tribunal. Mr Aslam and Mr Farrar claimed that under the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the National Minimum Wage Act 1998, they were entitled to paid holiday leave and the national minimum wage in their role as Uber drivers. Uber contested their claims, and asserted that their drivers did not qualify as “workers” for the purposes of employment law, and instead were self-employed contractors. In October 2016, the Employment Tribunal held that the drivers were “workers” under section 230(3)(b) of the Employment Rights Act 1996, and on that basis were entitled to the sought after employment benefits. Uber appealed this decision to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) and the Court of Appeal, both of whom agreed with the findings of the Employment Tribunal and dismissed the appeals.

Uber submitted a further appeal to the UK Supreme Court, which heard submissions the case on 21 and 22 July 2020. In reaching their decision, the Supreme Court judges sought to conclude on:

  1. Whether the Uber drivers were “workers” providing personal services to the Uber.
  2. If the Uber drivers were “workers”, what periods constituted their “working time”.

In a similar manner to the Employment Tribunal, EAT, and Court of Appeal before them, the Supreme Court unanimously found that the Uber drivers fell into the category of “workers”. The Court held that the five factors originally set out by the Employment Tribunal for determining that the drivers were workers were correct, namely:

  1. Uber set the fares for rides and thus determined the pay of the drivers;
  2. Uber imposed the contract terms under which the drivers provided their services;
  3. Uber were in control over the drivers’ rate of acceptance of rides when logged onto the app;
  4. Uber had significant control over the way drivers deliver their services, including terminating their services if failing to maintain a required rating; and
  5. Uber were in control over communication and the relationship between passenger and driver.

With regard to the working time periods, Uber asserted that their drivers could only be classified as “workers” during the time when they were actively driving passengers. However, the Supreme Court again upheld the original decision of the Employment Tribunal, concluding that the drivers were “workers” in any period when the driver was logged into Uber’s app, were willing to accept passengers, and were within the territory in which they were licensed to operate.

As a result of today’s judgment, Uber drivers can claim entitlement to the national minimum wage based on their entire working day, paid annual leave, and employment law safeguards such as protection for whistleblowing and against unlawful discrimination.

Robert Holland, Head of Employment Law commented on the decision: “This Supreme  Court decision is yet another win for those fighting for equal rights in the gig economy, and shows the direction of travel. Other industry sectors may well need to check the status of their staff, as it appears the law is going in one direction only.”

If you would like to speak to a solicitor regarding an employment law claim, please get in touch with a member of our Employment Team.