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10 January 2017

Putting the brakes on in the gig economy

The concept behind the gig economy has taken another blow in the Tribunal, this time with a CitySprint bicycle courier also being classed as a ‘worker’.

Only a matter of months since the Tribunal ruled two Uber drivers were classed as ‘workers’, the concept behind the gig economy has taken another blow in the Tribunal, this time with a CitySprint bicycle courier also being classed as a ‘worker’.

Ms Dewhurst, who has been a bicycle courier for CitySprint for over two years remained working for the company, but issued a claim in relation to employment status, citing that she should be classed as a ‘worker’ and not an ‘independent contractor’.

As part of her role, Ms Dewhurst stated she cycled up to 50 miles a day, four days a week between 9:30am and 6:30pm. She told the Tribunal she was given instructions about pick-ups and drop-offs from the company and felt she could not refuse jobs through fear of being offered less work. The company viewed Ms Dewhurst as a self-employed contractor and provided her with a standard contract, although she argued the contract was “littered with terms that are inconsistent with the reality of the role”.

The Employment Tribunal agreed, with the Judge commenting that the contractual arrangements were “contorted”, “indecipherable” and “window-dressing”, finding in favour of Ms Dewhurst and awarding her ‘worker’ status and that the company had unlawfully failed to pay her two days’ holiday.

Unlike the Uber case which was brought as a test case by two Claimants on behalf of 19 others, Ms Dewhurst’s claim was a single case but is likely to be the start of a number of cases being submitted against CitySprint and other courier companies across London and other major cities. CitySprint reportedly has some 3,500 self-employed couriers on its books but commented that the majority of its couriers “enjoy the freedom and flexibility of their current role”.

As a worker, Ms Dewhurst will be entitled to 5.6 weeks’ paid annual leave, daily and weekly rest periods, limits on her maximum working week (unless opted-out), national minimum wage and possibly even statutory sick pay (subject to certain eligibility criteria).

The Judgment in this case acts as a very good reminder that Tribunals will look past the contractual documents and consider the actual reality of the relationship. This is often where employers fall down in status cases, relying heavily on a contractual document which sets out a self-employed relationship, but which in reality, bears little or no resemblance to what actually happens in practice.

As with the Uber case, which we now know is being appealed, this is a first instance decision and so isn’t binding, but it is very indicative of the way Tribunals are generally viewing the ever-growing gig economy. It’s not yet known whether CitySprint will be appealing the decision, but it’s definitely a case to watch, along with similar employment status cases involving Deliveroo, Addison Lee, eCourier, Excel, Pimlico Plumbers (a Court of Appeal case) and of course, Uber!

Employment status arguments can be a costly headache for employers and it is beneficial to take early advice and receive assistance when preparing contractual documents, if a relationship is going to be anything other than a straight-forward employer/employee relationship.

If you would like any advice or assistance in this regard, please do not hesitate to contact Catharine Geddes or another member of LA’s Employment and HR Team.


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Lester Aldridge is a regional firm of solicitors with two offices in the Solent Region; Southampton and Bournemouth; plus one in London.