In Aslam and others v Uber BV and others, an Employment Tribunal has ruled in favour of Uber drivers who were seeking to establish that they were ‘workers’, rather than self-employed. An individual’s employment rights depend on whether they are classed as an employee, a worker or a self-employed contractor. Workers have less extensive employment rights than employees but some key legislation covers workers as well as employees, for example, the Working Time Regulations and the National Minimum Wage Regulations. When assessing employment status, courts and tribunals will look at all the details of a particular case, focusing on the practical reality of the relationship between the individual and the employer, particularly where this differs from the written documentation.

Uber argued that it acts merely as a technology platform, because it provides an app which allows passengers to contact drivers directly for private car hire. It claimed that drivers are self-employed because they work directly for the customer and have the flexibility to work as much or as little as they want. However, having looked in great detail at the arrangements between Uber and the drivers, the Tribunal concluded that the reality of their relationship was very different to Uber’s analysis and the written provisions in its contracts with the drivers. For example, Uber makes it clear to customers that they are booking a ride with one of ‘their’ drivers; Uber exercises control over the kind of car, the route, and how much the customer is charged; drivers are in a very unequal bargaining position; Uber reserves the right to amend the drivers’ terms unilaterally; and drivers are evaluated through a rating system which is effectively a performance management/disciplinary procedure. The Tribunal was highly critical of Uber’s complex contractual documentation, commenting that it had resorted to ‘fictions, twisted language and even brand new terminology’. In the Tribunal’s view, Uber is in the business of providing taxi services and engages the drivers as workers to deliver its business. It held that the drivers were engaged as workers for as long as they were in the territory in which they were authorised to work, signed into the Uber app, and ready and willing to accept bookings.

Over 30,000 Uber drivers in the UK could now be entitled to key employment rights including the right to receive the national minimum wage, paid holiday, rest breaks and whistleblower protection. This will no doubt encourage workers in other industries who may be wrongly labelled as self-employed. However, this is a first-instance decision that is not binding on other tribunals, and Uber has confirmed its intention to appeal. In the meantime, employers are advised to re-evaluate the status of staff they consider to be self-employed and consider the risk of future claims, particularly in industries where unions are likely to support legal action.