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Employed but not working

Last week the Supreme Court, which is the UK’s highest court, made a unanimous landmark judgment which will have far reaching effects on everyone in the gig economy. This long-awaited decision was 5 years in the making when it ruled that Uber drivers who worked for the ride hailing app, were not self-employed workers but rather employees of Uber.

On the face of it, this may not seem to matter very much but the repercussions are immense in that those drivers, if deemed self-employed, would not be entitled to minimum wage, holiday pay, sick pay, and all the trappings that are expected with the protection of employment unlike independent contractors.

This concept of employment status was controversial as there are tests which have always been used to determine whether or not a person is employed or self-employed and the gig economy has stretched the orthodox thinking to its limits. However, this case has brought clarity to the concept of employment status within the gig economy. The court used various tests and it found that Uber not only set the fares which affected how much drivers could earn, it also monitored their performance and penalised drivers who rejected too many requests. This meant that the drivers were akin to employees as the only way they could earn more money is by working longer hours. Therefore, it was a question of ‘control’ exerted by Uber over the drivers which was pivotal in the judgment.

There will be a large number of similar cases which will follow this precedent not only those which were stayed pending the outcome of this decision. The wider impact of this judgment will be felt by all in the gig economy not just the Uber drivers however it does raise difficult questions which the judgment tried to address including when these workers became employees. Again, a very innocuous question but very difficult to answer. Though the importance of this question cannot be overlooked because it goes to the root of the time that is counted for ‘working time’, ‘minimum wage’ and such like. In the case of Uber, it was when the driver was in the relevant location with the app switched on but what about those people with multiple apps such as Just Eat, Deliveroo and such like? Are these people also employed by multiple employers at the same time?

This judgment already impacted Uber’s share price but no doubt it will bounce back if Uber switches to driverless cars.

This case followed previous case law where courier drivers also benefitted from employment status but it is not just the UK that has to decide these difficult questions. Similar questions are occurring within the EU at present who no doubt will follow the precedent laid down by the court. The ripples caused by this case are far reaching as now Uber will face liability to pay 20% VAT because it will be deemed to be a transport driver rather than an intermediary.