The Central London Employment Tribunal has ruled that three drivers working for car and courier organisation Addison Lee are employed as workers rather than independent contractors, and are therefore entitled to employment rights such as the national minimum wage and holiday pay.
Lang, Olszeski and Morahan v Addison Lee, involved three drivers who commenced work with Addison Lee at different points during June 2014 and June 2015, who argued that they should be classified as workers rather than as self-employed independent contractors. This would then entitle them to receive the national minimum wage, holiday pay, and protection against contract termination for being trade union members under the Employment Rights Act 1996 and related legislation.
The claimants contended that they worked personally for Addison Lee as drivers, using branded vehicles that they had to hire through an associated organisation of Addison Lee. Employment judge Pearl agreed with the drivers, stating that by logging on to the online handheld computer that the organisation used to allocate jobs, the claimants were undertaking to accept jobs being given to them, and were therefore performing driving services.
Jobs allocated in this fashion by a controller had to be accepted, or drivers had to provide an acceptable reason as to why they would not accept the job. If the controller deemed the reason as unacceptable, then the matter would be referred to a supervisor. In addition, drivers had no control or knowledge over the fare that was agreed. Payments were made either directly to Addison Lee by card, or in a cash payment to the driver that had already been pre-agreed, with no option for negotiation or alterations.
Addison Lee further supplied information to drivers regarding standards that the organisation suggested be adhered to via a contract, which was re-issued in May 2015. This included a short script that could be used with customers, topics of conversation and lines of inquiry that were suitable to discuss, as well as a stipulated dress code. A March 2013 car control manual additionally specifies penalties for failing to log on in a timely fashion for pre-bookings, for example, a six-month ban from accepting pre-booked jobs.
The handheld computer device enabled drivers to notify the controller when they decided to take a break or go home and the drivers also had to notify the organisation if they planned on taking any holiday. If drivers were logged off from the computer for more than three to four days, Addison Lee would make contact with the driver to find out why. The organisation also required drivers to undertake a set amount of work a week, otherwise drivers would receive a £35 weekly service charge.
Employment judge Pearl ruled in favour of the claimants, finding that the drivers are workers because there is a contractual obligation for the drivers to provide services. Furthermore, the Addison Lee vehicle could not be used for other commercial or income-related purposes, meaning that the drivers were not working for other organisations at the same time as working for Addison Lee.
In the court documents Pearl said: “We have come to the view that the claimants were workers as defined. We agree that there must be a contractual obligation by the drivers to provide services. The statutory wording is that there must be a contract ‘whereby the individual undertakes to do or perform personally any work or services’ for the other party. This was clearly the case here whenever each driver logged on. Ignoring the period between ‘log ons’, the drivers, when they logged on, were undertaking to accept the driving jobs allocated to them. They were undertaking to perform driving services personally. No other conclusion is possible.
“They could not use the vehicle for other commercial or income-earning purposes. They did not market their services to the world and, even had they set up in business as drivers with some other vehicle, that would not connote that Addison Lee, on these arrangements, was one of their customers or clients. These claimants derived their whole income from this driving work.
“Logging on undoubtedly put the drivers at the respondent’s disposal and during logging on periods the drivers would not always be transporting a passenger. That is inherent in the work. If the driver chose to park a vehicle and remain logged on, [she or he] was no less at the disposal of Addison Lee.”
Liana Wood, solicitor at law firm Leigh Day, which represented the drivers, said: “We are delighted that the employment tribunal has found in favour of our clients. This judgment acknowledges the central contribution that Addison Lee’s drivers have made to the success of the [organisation] by confirming that its drivers are not self-employed but that they work for Addison Lee as part of Addison Lee’s business.
“Addison Lee advertises itself as a premium driving service and seeks to ensure that its drivers meet the high standard required for that premium service. However, Addison Lee drivers very often work very long hours, in excess of 60 hours a week, in order to just earn enough to cover their basic living costs. Addison Lee has sought to deny its drivers the most basic workers’ rights, including to be paid the national minimum wage and to receive paid holiday.
“This is a very important decision by the employment tribunal and will go some way to addressing these issues. This decision will not just have an impact on the thousands of Addison Lee drivers but, following on from the decision in Uber, on all workers in the so-called gig economy whose employers classify them as self-employed and deny them the rights to which they are entitled.
“There will now be a further hearing in the employment tribunal to calculate the holiday and pay that the drivers should receive.”
Addison Lee was unavailable for comment at time of publication.