Our law experts Baines Wilson LLP comment on last week's victory for taxi drivers over Uber as the taxi app company loses right to classify UK drivers as self-employed.

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On the 28 October 2016 an employment tribunal handed down its decision in a Preliminary Hearing in a case brought against Uber.

Uber is a platform which enables customers to obtain passenger services using drivers, who Uber maintains are independent. Uber has been in the news over the last couple of years, with black cab drivers in London staging numerous protests about Uber’s presence and lack of regulation.

The decision arises out of claims brought by drivers who claimed to be workers rather than genuinely self-employed. In a decision that could have wide ranging consequences for many businesses and individuals operating in the so called “gig” economy, the employment tribunal determined that the drivers were in fact workers, giving them additional rights, including to receive holidays, national minimum wage and breaks.

Uber’s terms and conditions with both customers and drivers explicitly characterise the drivers as being self-employed and distance the company from any suggestion that they are operating a taxi or private vehicle hire company. Uber characterises itself as merely a technology platform entitling drivers to sell their own services, analogous in a way to Ebay putting together buyers and sellers of goods and taking a fee.

Aslam and others v Uber B.V. and others

The claimants in the case brought against Uber are drivers operating in London.

They argued that they were not genuinely self-employed but were workers. For these purposes, under s230(3) Employment Rights Act 1996 a worker is an individual who works under a contract, undertakes to do or perform personally work or services for another party where the individual is not doing the work through a business in their own right.

Uber argued that the drivers were individual businesses and Uber simply put them together with customers.


The employment tribunal found that the claimants were workers, giving them the right to receive minimum wage, holidays and breaks.

In a complex judgement the decision of the employment tribunal came down to the central question of how much control Uber exercised over the drivers. In particular, the tribunal found that Uber:

  • has the sole discretion to accept/cancel bookings;
  • interviews and recruits drivers (although it calls the process ‘onboarding’);
  • controls key information like the intended destination and withholds it from the driver;
  • punishes drivers who frequently refuse/cancel trips by logging them off the app;
  • sets the route and punishes drivers who significantly depart from it;
  • sets the fare;
  • sets strict rules for quality of vehicles, instructs drivers how to drive, and otherwise controls
  • the way the services are provided;
  • has a rating system, which the tribunal likened to a performance management mechanism;
  • deals with refunds, sometimes without involving the driver;
  • pays a number of refunds itself, without deducting them from the driver;
  • handles complaints, including complaints about drivers;
  • reserves the right to unilaterally change the drivers’ terms.

These indicate a worker relationship.


The so called “gig” economy is becoming more and more prevalent in employment law. It exists where individuals are providing flexible services in an environment in which temporary positions are common and organisations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements.

This case could have wide ranging implications both for businesses and individuals operating in the “gig” economy; it will likely increase the number of individuals seeking to argue that they are workers to benefit from enhanced rights.

It should be noted that despite workers having enhanced rights in relation to pay and leave, they do not have the ability to claim unfair dismissal, any redundancy payments or implied terms such as relating to trust and confidence.

It is almost certain the Uber will appeal this case given the financial consequences of the decision.

We will of course keep readers up to date with any developments.

If you have any queries in relation to employment status or any other HR queries then please do not hesitate to contact Joanne Holborn, Tom Scaife or Caroline Rayner on 01228 552600 or 01524 548494.