In 2017, the “gig economy” evolved into more than a mere buzzword. Numerous discussions and several legal cases grappled with worker status generally and across various contexts which is indicative of the lack of clarity in the area. As it stands, determining employee status turns on questions of mutuality of obligation, personal service and control. All of these, unsurprisingly, have their own epilogue of related case law attempting to reach an understanding of what exactly each of those phrases means for businesses and employees.
Significant decisions in the area have seen what may on the face of it be divergent outcomes. Uber drivers have been held to be “workers” under the Employment Rights Act 1996 (the “ERA”), Deliveroo drivers were considered not to be “workers” for the purposes of a Union’s application for compulsory recognition under Schedule A1 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (the “TULRC”) and plumbers have been held to be “workers” for the purposes of the ERA and the Working Time Regulations 1998 as well as an employee within the extended meaning of that term in the Equality Act 2010. Other decisions such as King v Sash Window Workshop Ltd and another have extended, or arguably just confirmed how existing rights apply. In this case, Mr King’s contract described itself as a “self-employed commission-only contract”. Under that contract, Mr King was paid on a commission-only basis. The Court of Justice of the European Union held that Mr King, despite having been described as self-employed and led to believe he could not take paid leave was actually a “worker” and was therefore entitled to carry over or be paid for the entire sum of that unpaid holiday. This clarified that the right to carry over is not only limited to cases involving sickness or maternity leave. Taken together with the decisions conferring “worker” status on new sections of workers, potentially large retrospective liabilities could be created and businesses may be concerned to understand what are their actual and/or likely exposures are.
As such, it is with perhaps renewed force that we can reflect on the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices (the “Taylor Review”) published in 2017 and one of its central recommendations which was to codify the case law principles governing “employee” status into primary legislation.
On 7 February 2018 the Government published their response to the Taylor Review which acknowledged the lack of clarity and certainty over employment status (the “Response”). Therefore, this is an area we will closely monitor as 2018 develops.
One thing is for certain; the prevailing wind is in favour of extending or granting new rights to workers who previously would have been considered “casual”. Albeit they may seem minor adjustments, simple proposals accepted by the Response that would among other things oblige employers to provide written particulars and payslips to workers, are new compliance burdens should not be underestimated. Seeing as the general thrust for recognition of workers’ rights seems only to be increasing this may be an area where companies, especially those offering shares on public markets, should be particularly attuned to the risk of reputational damage and consider seeking specialist legal advice in this regard.
Employers may be relieved, however, that in the Response the Government has confirmed it will not (at least for now) be reversing the burden of proof where employment status is in dispute. It will remain the employee’s duty to prove their alleged status. Similarly, the Government has confirmed that despite some rumbles in the area of non-compete restrictions it does not propose to take any action in this area seeing as such restrictions were considered valuable by most respondents to consultations.
Seeing as the advent of both the GDPR and implementation of the extended Senior Managers & Certification Regime are not far off the horizon and given the ripeness and appetite for change in the area of employment status businesses may be prudent to seek specialist legal advice in these areas.
Our employment department has experience and expertise in all of the above areas.
If you would like any further information, please contact Noel Deans at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0207 955 1413.
This article should not be taken as definitive legal advice on any of the subject matter covered. If you do require legal advice, please contact Rosenblatt as above.