Hot on the heels of the recent Uber judgment which found that taxi drivers were workers (and not self-employed), an employment tribunal has held that a cycle courier engaged by Citysprint was also a worker. This is the first of four employment status cases brought against courier companies in London.
Ms Dewhurst, a cycling courier, argued that the way in which Citysprint controlled her work and activities meant that she was not in business on her own account and was a worker. A “worker” is a type of employment status which falls short of full employment status, but does entitle the individual to a certain level of protection and guarantees paid holidays. Citysprint argued that the contract between it and Ms Dewhurst was explicitly drafted to treat her as self-employed and maintained that the fact that she could refuse work and appoint a substitute meant that she could not be a worker.
However, the tribunal relied on an earlier employment status case, Autoclenz v Belcher, to find that the written contract did not tell the whole story, and looked at the way the relationship worked in practice. It found that Citysprint had significant control over its couriers, who wore branded uniforms and were directed and tracked by the company when out on jobs. They were even instructed to smile and meet customer service standards. The couriers were paid weekly in arrears through an automatic system and did not have to invoice for work done. Although the contract stipulated that couriers had the right to appoint a substitute if they were not able to do a job, this never happened in practice. The tribunal had little hesitation in finding that, contract notwithstanding, Ms Dewhurst was a worker.
The case is part of a growing movement towards greater employment protection for individuals working in what’s become known as the “gig” economy. It also serves as a useful reminder that employment tribunals will not hesitate to look behind a contract if it does not reflect what happens in practice. The number of employment tribunal cases exploring employment status is growing and with it public awareness of the issue. A number of reviews and studies were commissioned in light of the Uber judgment, including a major review by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy which is expected to last until July 2017. In the meantime, if you have any questions about the impact of the Uber and Citysprint decisions on your workforce, get in touch with your LAW Employment Solicitor.