In Addison Lee Ltd v Lange and others, the EAT considered a Tribunal’s finding that taxi drivers were workers for the purposes of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (the ERA) and legislation relating to working time and the National Minimum Wage.
The Claimants worked as private-hire taxi drivers for Addison Lee. They were provided with handheld computers which notified them of jobs when they logged onto a central system. While the drivers were logged on, they had to accept jobs of which they were notified. Refusal could often give rise to a sanction.
The Claimants’ contracts described them as independent contractors and provided that there was no obligation on them to accept work when it was offered. Nor was there an obligation on Addison Lee to provide work. However, Addison Lee would assume that drivers were ready and willing to pick up work when they were logged into their computers.
The Employment Tribunal held that the Claimants were workers for the purposes of the ERA and that they were protected by legislation relating to working time and the National Minimum Wage. It held that the time that the Claimants were logged into their computers constituted working time.
Addison Lee appealed, arguing that the Claimants could not be workers because they had no obligation to perform work. The EAT disagreed with this analysis. It held that the parties’ conduct implied that there was an overarching agreement between the parties that the drivers were regularly undertaking to do driving work by logging onto the computer system. The fact that work was so regularly being offered and accepted bolstered this conclusion. It did not matter that the Claimants’ contracts did not reflect this reality.
Comment: This case is one of many in which individuals have been held to be workers in direct contradiction of the parties’ stated intentions in the contract for services. Courts will inevitably look at the situation “on the ground”. It also highlights the principle that courts will look to the parties’ conduct to determine the true relationship between them – and in situations where low-paid drivers and couriers rely on many hours of work on a regular basis, it is easy to see how work will routinely be offered and accepted, giving rise to an inference of mutuality of obligation and an implied worker relationship. Employers operating this model who do not afford contractors worker rights will risk claims such as the ones raised in this case.