Uber Drivers are Workers, not self-employed

On Friday 19th February 2021, The UK Supreme Court ruled that drivers for the ride-sharing service, Uber, are workers, not self-employed.

Today the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, has finally ruled that Uber Drivers are workers (not employees – that’s another category altogether) rather than self-employed. This is the culmination of at least six years of litigation for the drivers who brought the case and it means that now Uber Drivers are entitled to be paid the minimum wage and also to receive holiday pay. This decision is likely to cost Uber a great deal of money in compensation.

A “worker” is someone who has the most basic employment law rights – the right to receive holiday pay and also the minimum wage being the most important. Workers cannot claim unfair dismissal or redundancy pay or request flexible working. Those are only rights that employees have. The truly self-employed have none of those rights (apart from protection from discrimination).

The question of employment status has long been a vexed issue in employment law even before the rise of the gig economy. Employment status can only be determined by looking at the facts of each particular case and it is difficult to generalise between different businesses. For example, in 2016 Deliveroo riders were held not to be workers and thus not entitled to trade union recognition. In 2019 a Yodel delivery driver was held not to be a worker. Pimlico Plumbers were engaged in litigation for some years over the same issue and it was held their plumbers were indeed workers. Each case turns on its own facts.

The Government launched its Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices in 2016 to consider reforming employment status and its Good Work Plan from 2018 still remains to be implemented; although, to be fair, the government has had its hands full over the last four years with some other weighty matters. The Government has promised a new Employment Bill this year and that would be a good opportunity to try and simplify this whole area of law. The last major piece of employment legislation – the Employment Rights Act of 1996, now much amended – was drafted before the gig economy was even dreamed of.

Uber itself commented in response to the judgment that it would only affect those drivers using the app in 2016 but whether its effect is as limited as that remains to be seen but what this finding does do is provide more certainty and support to Uber Drivers. How it effects the business models for those businesses in the gig economy is also unclear – price rises for customers riding in Uber vehicles are probably likely at the very least. Some new legislation to try and clarify some of the confusion in this area would be welcome.