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May 2018

‘‘Gig economy’’ update: Addison Lee couriers are workers

The next instalment of “gig economy” case law hit the legal press yesterday as the Addison Lee couriers joined Uber drivers and Pimlico Plumbers as “workers” within the meaning of the Working Time Regulations 1998, following an Employment Appeal Tribunal ruling.

In an effort to maintain an arm’s length relationship with its couriers who, it was argued, were self-employed, Addison Lee appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal in relation to the determination that one of its cycle couriers was a worker within the meaning of the legislation.

Employment status remains a hot topic for employers as a result of the recent plethora of case law in this area.  Many of the cases have concerned couriers and taxi drivers with particular features being (a) whether the employer has set the terms of the contract and rates of pay, (b) where the employer exercises a significant degree of control over the individuals, and (c) where the individuals appear to the outside world, to all intents and purposes, as an integrated part of the business by, for example, driving a branded car and/or wearing a particular uniform.

The case against Addison Lee was no exception, with the same legal tests being applied to slightly different facts.

Addison Lee’s business includes the provisions of private-hire taxis to businesses and individuals, working with around 4000 drivers, and a smaller courier business with around 500 couriers using motorcycles, cars, vans and bicycles, 30-40 of whom operate on bicycles within a relatively small geographical area within Central London.  There is a requirement on couriers to be responsive and work quickly during a tightly controlled working day.  The couriers are supplied with a radio, a palm top computer (XDA) and a GPS tracker.  They have company materials such as a book of receipts, a branded bag and a T-Shirt.  They are all provided with Addison Lee ID badges.

Unsurprisingly, against this background, the Employment Appeal Tribunal rejected Addison Lee’s appeal, upholding the Tribunal’s earlier finding of worker status and thus, Addison Lee’s couriers’ entitlement to holiday pay, the national minimum wage and protection from unlawful deduction from wages.  It remains to be seen whether Addison Lee will recognise all of its drivers and couriers as workers, or just those whom operate on bicycles in and around Central London.

The government continues to seek to provide some clarity on this heavily litigated area of law.  On 7 February this year, four new consultations were opened in response to the Taylor Review (an independent review of employment practices in the modern economy which took place last year) including an employment status consultation to consider, amongst other things, whether the existing case law on employment law and worker status tests should be codified in legislation and aligned with those in the tax sphere.  Business owners and individuals alike are likely to welcome the introduction of any such legislation which, it is hoped, would serve to make this very grey area of employment law a little more black and white.

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