The IT company Uber, which offers a ‘ride-hailing app’ has provided us with two separate ‘landmark’ court rulings in the recent months.

First of all, in November, a Tribunal upheld the decision that drivers for Uber UK were classed as ‘workers’ (as against Uber’s contention that all the drivers were self-employed). The significance is that, although the drivers were not deemed employees (with the consequent employment rights), the classification as ‘workers’ entitles them to limited employment rights, including the minimum living wage plus sickness and holiday pay.

Uber UK planned to take an appeal against this ruling direct to the Supreme Court (skipping over the Court of Appeal) but permission to do this has been refused, so presumably the appeal will be heard in the Court of Appeal in due course – although my understanding is that the right to appeal depends on whether or not Uber can establish that there could have been an error in law (but of course I’m not a lawyer!)

This decision will have far-reaching ramifications for any business which seeks to make use of services provided by individuals other than employees – depending upon the exact terms of the service provision. Just because an individual is not an employee it does not mean that there are no employment rights, so do consider whether these individuals could be classified as ‘workers’.

Then more recently we learned that Uber have lost in the European Court of Justice, following a challenge from taxi-drivers in Barcelona that Uber are in fact providing transport services. Uber’s claim was that they were simply providing a digital platform and effectively doing no more than putting users in contact with a service-provider.  The ECJ ruled that they were providing an ‘intermediation service’ which was inherently linked to a transport service and therefore must be classified as ‘ a service in the field of transport’ within the meaning of UK law. The judgement will apply across the EU (including for the time being the UK) and there is no right of appeal.

The significance is that, as a transport service provider, Uber are subject to regulation and licensing in EU countries. Uber say that this is not a big deal for them as they are already operating within the transportation requirements in most EU countries.

BUT –  this decision highlights what could be a huge pitfall for any business operating within the fast-growing gig economy. Are you just providing a digital platform – or is it linked to a service-provision that requires compliance with regulatory regime?  The next company to face a challenge may find out the hard way!

Do let me know what you think.