Supreme Court finds Uber drivers were 'workers' in successful case

Insights / / Bristol

A group of Uber drivers who made claims for National Minimum Wage and paid-holiday in the Employment Tribunal back in 2016 have been successful in their case at the Supreme Court. 

To be entitled to such rights, the claimants had to show that they were “workers” in accordance with the Employment Rights Act 1996 and not self-employment contractors as Uber argued. By this definition, a worker is either an individual working under a “contract of employment”, i.e. an employee (the Uber drivers did not argue that they were employees), or a so-called “Limb (b) worker” - an individual who performs personally any work or services for another party who is not their client or customer.

The Supreme Court agreed with the Employment Tribunal’s original decision, which Uber had appealed, and found that the drivers were "workers" when they had the Uber app switched on, were within the area that they are authorised to work in, and were willing and able to accept assignments.

Crucially to determine the true nature of the relationship between Uber and the drivers, the Court looked at the factual situation and the reality of the obligations between the parties. The various written contracts were not determinative of the arrangement. The Court emphasised the unequal bargaining power that exists in employment situations which means any written agreement cannot be conclusive in determining rights and obligations between parties.    

The Supreme Court concluded that Uber exercised a high degree of control over the drivers when considering that Uber set the fares and routes, imposed penalties if the drivers cancelled trips,  and withheld key information (such as destination and customer details) from the driver, to reach the conclusion that in fact the Uber drivers were "workers".

Uber have responded to the Supreme Court’s decision in this article, by seeking to emphasise that it only applies to “a small group of drivers using the Uber app in 2016”. However, it is likely that the case will have substantial ramifications for the company. Potentially, many thousands of current and former Uber drivers will have back pay claims for minimum wage and paid holiday and the decision will impact  Uber’s obligations towards their drivers going forward.  

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