France recognises Uber driver’s rights in blast to ‘gig economy’

The ruling could have ramifications for France’s ‘gig economy’, which leaves workers sans benefits such as sick leave.

Uber app
The decision by France's top court could have consequences for other taxi and food delivery apps such as JustEat and UberEats that rely heavily on self-employed drivers to conduct their business without having to meet a range of employee costs and benefits [File: Bloomberg]

France’s top court has recognised the right of an Uber driver to be considered an employee, in a ruling that could upend the United States firm’s business model and potentially require it to pay more taxes and provide its drivers benefits, such as sick leave.

The move comes as the coronavirus outbreak spreads through Europe and North America, where the ride-sharing app is very popular. 

The Cour de Cassation upheld a previous decision by a court of appeal, saying the Uber driver could not qualify as a self-employed contractor because he could not build his own clientele or set his own prices, making him a subordinate of the company.

“When connecting to the Uber digital platform, a relationship of subordination is established between the driver and the company,” the court said in a statement. “Hence, the driver does not provide services as a self-employed person, but as an employee.”

The decision could potentially pave the way for other drivers to ask for a reclassification of their work relationship with Uber, which, under the current framework, does not pay a wide range of taxes that fund France’s welfare system.

The decision also follows a series of legal challenges to Uber and similar companies from Brazil to Colombia and the US itself. California, where Uber is based, recently passed a law aimed at making it harder for apps to classify their workers as independent contractors rather than employees.

“This decision does not reflect the reasons why drivers choose to use the Uber app,” Uber said in a written statement.

“Drivers value Uber because of the independence and freedom to use our app if, when and where they want,” it added, noting the court’s decision would not lead to an automatic reclassification of all drivers using its application.

Uber and other ride-sharing apps have recently urged their drivers not to show up to work sick and potentially expose passengers to the coronavirus. The no-benefits-job is part of the wider gig economy that leaves workers without health insurance and compensated time off. 

Several cases in recent years have claimed that companies purposefully misclassify their employees as independent contractors rather than employees, including one in San Diego against the grocery delivery app Instacart.  

Source: Reuters