The recent Supreme Court case of Uber BV and others (Appellants) v Aslam and others (Respondents) [2021] has become the landmark case for the employment status of private hire vehicle drivers who provide their services through the Uber smartphone application.

Uber BV is a company which owns the technology behind the Uber app. The claimants, Mr Aslam and Mr Farrar, were licensed to drive private hire vehicles in London and did so using the Uber app. The claimants brought their claim to the Employment Tribunal as a test case to establish their employment status.

Section 230(3) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 defines a ‘worker’ as anybody who employed under a contract of employment, but this also extends to some individuals who are self-employed. The Employment Tribunal found that the claimants had satisfied this test as they worked under worker’s contracts for Uber London. Uber appealed this decision, but the Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal (by a majority).

Uber appealed further to the Supreme Court in 2020. In summary, Uber argued that drivers are independent contractors who work under contracts made with customers and do not work for Uber. On the facts, there was no written contract between the drivers and Uber London, so the Supreme Court inferred the nature of the legal relationship from the parties’ conduct and there was no factual basis for asserting that Uber London had acted as an agent for the drivers. The Supreme Court inferred that Uber London had contracts with passengers and engaged the drivers to carry out bookings for it.

The key point raised in the Judgment is that it is wrong in principle to treat the written agreements as a starting point in deciding whether an individual is a ‘worker’. The correct approach is to consider the purpose of the relevant employment legislation – that being to give protection to vulnerable individuals who have little or no say over their pay and working conditions because they are in a subordinate and dependent position in relation to a person or organisation which exercises control over their work.

Uber further argued that the Claimants were only considered to be working whilst they were transporting passengers to their destinations. The Supreme Court held that the employment tribunal was entitled to find that time spend by the claimants working for Uber also included any period of time in which the driver was logged into the Uber app within the territory in which the driver was licensed to operate and was ready and willing to accept trips.

Unsurprisingly, the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed Uber’s appeal. This landmark Judgment means that the employment status of private hire vehicle drivers who provide their services through the Uber smartphone application has now been classed as that of a ‘worker’. The result is that they will now have the right to be paid the National Minimum Wage, given statutory paid holiday, maternity pay, paternity pay and statutory sick pay. The new decision will only apply to the drivers who had brought the claim against Uber, but it has set an important precedent for how millions of gig economy workers are treated in the UK.

If you have any employment issues that you wish to discuss, please do not hesitate to contact Mark Edmondson on 01638 560556 or via mark.edmondson@edmondsonhall.com