Self-employment and atypical working arrangements are on the rise, driven in part by the changing economy and by modern ways of working. In recent cases, the Employment Tribunal has scrutinised these relationships and stepped in to dismiss business's claims that individuals are self-employed independent contractors and to confer legal rights on them as workers.
This month, in Dewhurst v CitySprint UK Ltd, the Employment Tribunal said that a bicycle courier was a "worker" of the courier firm for the purposes of the Employment Rights Act 1996. The Tribunal looked behind the contractual documents, which labelled Ms. Dewhurst as self-employed. Ms. Dewhurst was integrated into CitySprint’s business. She was expected to work when she said she would, and did not feel able to turn down work; she was tracked by GPS and given directions; she was told to smile and wear a uniform; and CitySprint was in charge of calculating her pay. The Tribunal said that Ms. Dewhurst was a worker, and awarded her two days' holiday pay.
This case follows the decision last year that UBER drivers are also "workers." These cases call into question the working practices relied on by many business models in the "Gig Economy," particularly those that use technology platforms to link customers to services. These cases make clear that labelling someone a freelance worker or independent contractor will not be sufficient if the reality does not support this. Those businesses are at risk of worker-related claims, such as for holiday pay and minimum wage. Further challenges and developments in this area are awaited. There are four more courier cases waiting to be heard, and UBER is appealing against its decision. The Government has launched an inquiry into the Future World of Work and Rights of Workers and many suggest that a new category of "worker" is needed. Watch this space!