What the UK decision implies for Uber drivers in the U.S.

This blog was first posted at OnLabor. 

As Jon reported this morning, an employment tribunal in London has concluded that Uber drivers are not self-employed independent contractors, but rather Uber workers. The tribunal’s decision is available here, and I recommend it: it’s full of details regarding the relationship between Uber and its drivers. And although legal tests differ across jurisdictions, what the U.K. tribunal found has clear relevance for the question of whether Uber drivers in the U.S. meet the definition of “employee” under U.S. labor and employment laws. To put it bluntly, what the tribunal finds clearly confirms the conclusion that Uber drivers are employees under U.S. standards. The opinion is 40 single spaced pages, but here are some (and just some) of the relevant findings that led the tribunal to conclude that drivers are workers under UK law:

  1. The contradiction in the Rider Terms between the fact that [Uber] purports to be the drivers’ agent and its assertion of ‘sole and absolute discretion’ to accept or decline bookings.

  2. The fact that Uber interviews and recruits drivers.

  3. The fact that Uber controls the key information (in particular the passenger’s surname, contact details and intended destination) and excludes the driver from it.

  4. The fact that Uber requires drivers to accept trips and/or not to cancel trips, and enforces the requirement by logging off drivers who breach those requirements.

  5. The fact that Uber sets the (default) route and the driver departs from it at his peril.

  6. The fact that [Uber] fixes the fare . . .

  7. The fact that Uber imposes numerous conditions on drivers (such as the limited choice of acceptable vehicles), instructs drivers as to how to do their work and, in numerous ways, controls them in the performance of their duties.

  8. The fact that Uber subjects drivers through the rating system to what amounts to a performance management/disciplinary procedure. . .

The list goes on. Much of this we know already, and part of the value of the U.K. decision is the consolidating of so much data in one place. But there’s new material here too. Moreover, compared to cases and commentary in the U.S. that hem and haw about whether Uber drivers really fit the definition of “employee” (think square peg/round hole) and credit too much the argument that the Uber work relationship just can’t be accommodated by existing definitions, the London decision is remarkably clear and unequivocal. Here’s one of the best parts:

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. In each case, the ‘business’ consists of a man with a car seeking to make a living by driving it. [Uber’s representative] spoke of Uber assisting the drivers to ‘grow’ their businesses, but no driver is in a position to do anything of the kind, unless growing his business simply means spending more hours at the wheel. Nor can Uber’s function sensibly be characterised as supplying drivers with ‘leads.’ That suggests that the driver is put into contact with a possible passenger with whom he has the opportunity to negotiate and strike a bargain. But drivers do not and cannot negotiate with passengers (except to agree [to] a reduction of the fare set by Uber). They are offered and accept trips strictly on Uber’s terms.

Finally, and with language that couldn’t make the point better, the UK tribunal concludes that Uber drivers “fall full square within” the statutory definition of worker. The same could be, and ought to be, said about Uber drivers and employment status in the United States.