My first Uber...

Just before Christmas I used Uber for the first time.  Yes, I know I was a little slow on the uptake but I’ve always been a fan of the black cab in and around London. What was interesting, though, was the chat I had with my driver. I got to hear first-hand his thoughts on the recent Uber tribunal and controversy over drivers’ rights.

My driver said he’d heard about the case but didn’t really know the difference between ‘worker’ and ‘self-employed’ status (Uber’s business model uses the latter). Our two-hour drive was spent debating the case and providing some free advice.

Self-Employed Status

My driver used to be a driving instructor but moved to Uber because he wanted the flexibility to look after his young son.  He’d heard his earnings could be substantial but said he would’ve had to work 24/7 to achieve this.

As a driving instructor, he would’ve safely fallen under the government definition of a self-employed person: “They run their business for themselves and take responsibility for its success or failure”. Or in his case, he would have been in control over what he charges, whether his business makes a loss or profit, how payment is received, accepting or declining jobs, and he would have been able to hire someone else.

The driver had never thought about holiday pay, sick pay or pension rights. His priority was flexibility and earning a living.

Blurred Lines of the Gig Economy

As an Uber driver, his jobs are controlled by their app and he’s obliged to use their navigation system.  He told me once he has signed onto the Uber app he can only take clients from Uber and when he takes time off he knows he won’t earn any money. He also reminded me to rate him on the app as drivers are dependent ratings for securing more jobs (this could be interpreted as a performance management measure). The driver can’t charge more than the approx. fee quoted on the app and, once registered to work (clocked-in), declining jobs is frowned upon. On the journey, he kept pointing out Uber drivers … I now know, through the ET ruling, Uber imposes a limited choice of vehicles as being acceptable for drivers.

The driver had never thought about holiday pay, sick pay or pension rights. His priority was flexibility and earning a living. He was, as I’m sure many are, unaware of the legislation which defines self-employment, worker or employee status including IR35.

Uber plans to appeal, what will be the outcome? Tweet us @Tassic_HR

Lessons learnt from the Uber tribunal

Clearly defining the employment status and relationship with all parties will avoid potential disputes – this is important even if you’re well acquainted with the person, as is so often the case in the gig economy.

Judgements are no longer just based on one size fits all. Employment tribunal judges will look beyond your lawyer’s defence and scrutinise the reality of actual relationship in practice. So, make sure all communication is worded appropriately to reflect the various contract types.

Don’t be caught out by misinterpretation of your actual business – what is your product or service. Uber claimed to be a technology business thus using ‘freelancers’ but their services didn’t support this model.

Ensure you have a robust business case and your people management practices and communications align with this. A well thought out business case could avoid potential employee disputes.

Partner with professional advisors to ensure you know your workers’ rights and employment statuses.