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In brief

The Supreme Court has upheld previous judgments that Uber drivers are workers, not self-employed. In doing so, it has held that the terms of a written contract should not be treated as the starting point in determining worker status. Courts and tribunals should instead look at all the circumstances of the case, and reach their own conclusion on whether an individual is a worker.


Comment

The Supreme Court’s decision means that the drivers in the litigation can proceed with their claims for certain minimum employment protections such as paid holiday and the national minimum wage. Worker status also confers protection from unlawful discrimination and whistleblowing detriment.

This decision confirms that courts and tribunals will look at the reality of working relationships in order to determine the statutory classification of that relationship. The description of that relationship in contractual documentation will be important evidence, but it is not in any way determinative. Judges will decide where the balance of control lies. The greater the degree of control exercised by the alleged employer, the more likely that individuals will be deemed to be workers (or, in some cases, employees), even if they are labelled as self-employed or independent contractors.

This case is of general importance to how questions on worker status should be approached. It is evidently of particular interest to operations that are similar to Uber’s, particularly as a number of cases have been stayed pending the Supreme Court’s decision. However, the court expressly distinguished the facts of this case from other app-based businesses such as hotel / accommodation booking apps.

The court based its decision on the purpose of worker status legislation: namely, to give protection to a vulnerable category of individuals. This broad purposive approach could see challenges to any other type of agreement that could be said to limit or exclude worker protection, either directly or indirectly. For example, some status-related indemnities might be challenged.

Uber BV and another v Aslam and another, Supreme Court

Author

Rachel Farr is a Knowledge Lawyer in Baker McKenzie's London office.

Author

James Brown is a Knowledge Lawyer in Baker McKenzie's London office.

Author