On appeal from: [2018] EWCA Civ 2748

This appeal concerns the employment status of private hire vehicle drivers who provide their services through the Uber smartphone application.

The Appellants are members of a group of companies providing private hire vehicle booking services in the UK and internationally. Journeys are booked through the Appellants’ smartphone app, which connects passengers to drivers. The Respondents are drivers who are or were active users of that app.

The Respondents contend that, during the periods covered by their claims, they were “workers” for the purposes of the Employment Rights Act 1996, the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 and the Working Time Regulations 1998. As such, the Respondents claim that they were entitled to the minimum wage, paid leave and other legal protections.

The Appellants argue that the Respondents were independent, third party contractors and not “workers”.

Following a preliminary hearing, the Employment Tribunal found that the Respondents were “workers” and that they were “working” whenever they (a) had the Appellants’ app switched on; (b) were within the territory in which they were authorised to work; and (c) were able and willing to accept assignments.

These findings were upheld by the Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Appeal. The Appellants then appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the appeal, with Lord Leggatt giving the main judgment.

The Court held that the transportation service performed by drivers and offered to passengers through the Uber app is very tightly defined and controlled by Uber. Drivers are in a position of subordination and dependency in relation to Uber such that they have little or no ability to improve their economic position through professional or entrepreneurial skill. In practice the only way in which they can increase their earnings is by working longer hours while constantly meeting Uber’s measures of performance. The Supreme Court considered that comparisons made by Uber with digital platforms which act as booking agents for hotels and other accommodation and with minicab drivers did not advance its case. The drivers were rightly found to be “workers”.

The Supreme Court also held that the employment tribunal was entitled to find that time spent by the claimants working for Uber was not limited (as Uber argued) to periods when they were actually driving passengers to their destinations, but included any period when the driver was logged into the Uber app within the territory in which the driver was licensed to operate and was ready and willing to accept trips.

For judgment, please see: Judgment

For press summary, please see: Press summary

For non-PDF version of the judgment, please see: BAILII

Watch hearing
21 Jul 2020 Morning session Afternoon session
22 Jul 2020 Morning session Afternoon session