Un-Blurring The Lines of Worker’s Rights

The independent workforce continues to exert heavy influence over the marketplace, and is now causing many businesses a legal headache

Every so often, a business comes along that re-shapes its relevant marketplace. Ford revolutionised transportation, Apple re-defined computer technology, AT&T transformed communication. Very occasionally, a business emerges that re-shapes the global marketplace — Facebook’s pioneering of social media being the most obvious example.

Since its launch in 2009, Uber has dominated hired transport and news headlines alike, and has done so using a business and employment model that is becoming increasingly popular. It has given rise to what has been dubbed the ‘gig economy’ — independent or freelance workers operating for companies on short-term engagements.

In essence, these are self-employed sub-contractors, not employees of the business they are providing services for. As such, they would not receive employee benefits such as a guaranteed minimum wage, sick and holiday pay, and would not be legally protected against unfair dismissal or given a redundancy package.

However, the lines between being an employee, self-employed or simply a worker have been blurred by companies like Uber and Deliveroo, and employment law is having to dip its toes into waters that have been significantly muddied in recent years.

An employment tribunal in the UK ruled in October 2016 that Uber could not classify its London-based drivers as self-employed, stating,

“The notion that Uber in London is a mosaic of 30,000 small businesses linked by a common ‘platform’ is to our minds faintly ridiculous.”

More recently, in February 2017, London-based plumbing company Pimlico Plumbers lost a similar case, being instructed that individuals they deemed as self-employed contractors were in fact workers, based upon the expectations Pimlico placed on them.

A prototype of Uber’s driverless car — they could find themselves having to push the programme forwards if their drivers continue to win legal battles

The ramifications of these court rulings have set the foundations of a legal precedent, if not the full precedent itself, that any contracted work performed by anyone, whether they are employed or self-employed, effectively establishes them as (at the very least) a worker, and thus entitles them to certain statutory rights.

As a business owner or employer, it is imperative that you put yourself and your business ahead of the curve regarding worker’s rights. Uber have already been caught out by the moving of the metaphorical goalposts, and have felt the financial burden that accompanies losing lengthy court battles.

Reviewing your policies and procedures can be an arduous process, but will go some way to ensuring you do not have to find a way to recover from potentially significant financial and reputational loss.

The rules of the game have changed; how will you make sure your business changes with it?

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