A US court found last week that Uber's drivers would not be able to pursue a class-action suit against the company, and would instead have to rely on resolving claims individually through arbitration. Against a backdrop of numerous legal battles with its drivers that Uber has faced this year both in the US and overseas, this is a key victory for Uber as the drivers as individuals will have less leverage in their fight against the company.
The judgment, which was concerned with how Uber operates background checks in the US, follows the recent rejection by a US judge of the settlement reached between Uber and its drivers in relation to a separate class-action suit complaining that Uber was misclassifying drivers as independent contractors, so as to avoid paying minimum wage, holiday pay and other basic employment related rights. This latest ruling is also expected to affect those employment status claims. Similar claims were heard against Uber in the Employment Tribunal in the UK in July, for which we are awaiting a reserved judgment.
The anticipated Uber Employment Tribunal decision is expected to have significant ramifications in the UK, not just for Uber but for the wider "gig" (or sharing) economy in general. There are many questions concerning the extent to which new working models fit within the existing employment law framework, and the judgment may provide a steer on some of the key issues, in addition to determining the future in the UK of one of the market's leaders.
Uber, as the poster child of the gig economy, has borne the brunt of the present legal action, but there are countless companies operating similar models which have encountered criticism and resistance, not least Deliveroo, which was forced to back down from implementing a new pay structure for its drivers last month after they refused to work and carried out a very public protest against the company.
The gig economy has grown enormously over the last few years and technology in general is developing so fast that traditional norms for people's behaviours and working practices may no longer hold. There is a sense that the technology has overtaken the law and is quickly leaving it behind. While the Uber Employment Tribunal decision will provide useful guidance, it is likely that this will just be the beginning, and that something more significant is required, whether that be the introduction of new legislation or possibly the creation of a new category of "gig worker".
We are following the Uber case carefully and will report on the judgment and its ramifications as soon as it is delivered.