Are you a worker?
Sounds a silly question doesn’t it?
But a landmark case currently being considered by the Court of Appeal revolves around just that issue.
Taxi-hailing app Uber is contesting an employment tribunal finding that drivers should be treated as workers rather than as being self-employed.
The hearing is the latest round in a two-year battle between Uber and a couple of its drivers. Uber says its drivers work for themselves and are hired by Uber on a self-employed basis, whilst the drivers say they should be classed as workers and enjoy the employment benefits that brings.
Those benefits include paid holidays and the minimum wage, which some unions say could be worth up to £18,000 per driver.
So the stakes are pretty high.
The drivers, James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam, initially won their case at an employment tribunal in October 2016.
Uber then appealed just over a year later but was unsuccessful when the tribunal upheld its original decision that any Uber driver who had the company’s app turned on was working under a "worker" contract.
This month’s hearing in the appeal court has huge significance not just to the 60,000 licensed drivers who currently use the Uber app, but to the millions now employed in the gig economy.
Whatever the Court of Appeal’s ruling, it will have major implications for the way those who work in this sector of the economy are classified. And with that classification could come major changes to their rights and entitlements.
By law, all people classed as workers must get at least the minimum wage, have legal protection against unlawful deductions from their wages, and be given at least the statutory minimum level of paid holiday and rest breaks.
They are also protected from working for more than 48 hours a week, unlawful discrimination, must not be treated any less well if they opt to work part-time and have legal protection for whistle-blowing.
In contrast, most areas of employment law do not cover the self-employed because they work for themselves.
It’s a fascinating case and we’ll keep you posted on the outcome as soon as it is delivered.
And then, finally, we might be able to answer the question of when is a worker really a worker.