The Supreme Court has issued its long-awaited and emphatic vindication of taxi drivers' claims who (we can now say) 'worked' for Uber. That said, the judgment doesn't offer determinative clarity on what will in, any given case, give rise to 'worker' status.
'Workers' occupy an uneasy hybrid definition in UK law, nestled awkwardly in our employment legislation between 'employees' (who enjoy full employment protection) and the truly self-employed, who have virtually none.
The ruling entitles Uber drivers to protections they couldn't access while classified as self-employed, such as minimum wage and holiday pay.
What does this mean for similar cases in the future?
We've already seen in increase in similar claims on the back of this litigation, and that's set to continue. The case also influenced the 'Taylor Review' recommendations on re-shaping employment rights.
The vast majority of claims presented in recent years have found in favour of 'workers'. Commonly, the decisive factor has been the existence of any unfettered contractual right to change supplier and the extent to which the courts can query this.
Recognising this judgement's potentially far-reaching ripple effects into other reaches of digital platform delivery, such as hotel booking sites, the court set out some very clear distinctions and highlighted the high degree of control Uber exercised over its arrangements.
Uber, not the drivers, set the price for the journeys; used reviews only for internal performance rating purposes and prevented ongoing direct dialogue between passenger and driver. None of this, said the court, applies generally with other such digital service providers.
While this case could then be regarded as 'fact sensitive', the Supreme Court has still delivered a very clear and important signal of a change in approach.
The starting point, it says, is not what businesses agree with individuals, even if they willingly welcome those terms. The starting point is our legislation, there to protect "vulnerable" workers such as the Uber drivers.
The possibility that none of them was likely to have read, let alone understood, the contracts swayed the court. That's important for any business to bear in mind when engaging individuals, other than employees.
COVID-19 and Brexit have prevented the government from progressing with its announcements to simplify our definitions of employees, workers and contractors and this is expected to be confirmed soon.
For gig economy and other businesses using individual contractors, that clarification would be welcome sooner than later.
The court concluded that the drivers were workers because of Uber’s level of control over them, including setting fares and not informing them of a passenger’s destination until they were picked up.