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Who is in the driving seat?

The current trend in employment law appears to be cases involving workers and whether or not independent contractors are truly workers, or are they truly independent contractors.  Many of us are waiting to see what happens with the Uber decision on this.

However, in the meantime there has been a recent decision by the Employment Appeal Tribunal, again involving drivers, but this time for a taxi company called Addison Lee.  Addison Lee provide private hire taxis and couriers, including bicycle, motorbike, car and van couriers.  Addison Lee provided them with training and how they should complete the job.  The vehicles which the drivers used were hired through a company associated with Addison lee.  The drivers were given hand held computers which allocated them jobs when they logged on.  If they received the notification that there was a job available then they had to go to it, and if they didn’t they had to have a justifiable reason and if they refused a job, then a sanction against them might follow. Addison Lee did not guarantee the drivers a specific amount of work each week, but they were told they could expect to work between 50 and 60 hours per week.

Against those practical issues, nonetheless the drivers were issued with a contract stating that they were independent contractors and that nothing in the contract would render them an employee, worker, agent or a partner of Addison Lee.  It stated that in the cases of bookings with Addison Lee account holders, the drivers would be a subcontractor for Addison Lee; for non-account bookings Addison Lee confirmed that the drivers would be disclosed Agents.

The Employment Tribunal took the view that the claim brought by Mr Lang was that he and his colleagues were workers within the meaning of the Employment Rights Act 1996 and they were not genuinely self-employed independent contractors.  It also said that when the drivers were logged on to the Addison Lee system this constituted working time.

Addison Lee appealed against the Tribunal’s finding that Mr Lang and his colleagues had an obligation to perform work.  It also said that being logged on to the Addison Lee system did not constitute working time. 

The Employment Appeal Tribunal dismissed the appeal and confirmed that the drivers were workers for the purpose of the legislation.  It also said that logging on to the system constituted working time.  Ultimately it said that the contractual documentation characterizing the drivers as self-employed contractors did not properly reflect the true agreement between the parties.

So, what does that mean for you?  If you use independent contractors then make sure that that is what they are.  Do not try to class them as independent contractors in order to escape your obligations to them if they were to be employees.

If you require any advice on whether or not your contractors are in fact contractors or if they could be caught as being workers then please contact Julie Sullivan on 01383 721621 and we can review your contracts.

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