Pay cash deposit to keep up ‘self-employed drivers’ claim, Addison Lee told

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Addison Lee has been ordered to pay deposits of up to £125,000 to continue its claim that drivers for the taxi firm are self-employed, not workers.

The order from the employment tribunal was made on the grounds that the firm has not identified any new facts or circumstances to support its case that it doesn’t owe the drivers so-called ‘worker rights.’

The order relates to a 2017 ruling, upheld in both 2018 and 2021, which found that their working practices meant Addison Lee drivers were entitled to rights such as holiday pay and the National Minimum Wage.

'The original three Addison Lee drivers who won in 2017 still haven't been compensated'

But yesterday Cecile Jeffries of law firm Leigh Day told FreelanceUK that three drivers who won worker status claims back in 2017, and whose claims were subsequently upheld, ‘still haven’t received any compensation.’

In fact, such payments to the drivers have been on hold ever since Addison Lee contested the 2017 decision which, broadly, said that logging onto the firm’s app meant the drivers were accepting jobs allocated to them and that they performed those jobs personally.

The drivers found themselves at another amber light last year, when Addison Lee indicated it would argue that the 2017 ruling did not apply to other claimants who subsequently brought claims against the firm for worker rights, cueing up additional hearings.

'Strike out'

However, evidence that the drivers’ working practices and their written contracts had changed since 2017 was not provided by Addison Lee, says Leigh Day, which believes worker rights are due both to the trio and subsequent claimants alike.

Clearly unimpressed with the taxi operator potentially stalling with the effect that the drivers have been out-of-pocket for six years, the law firm asked the EAT to "strike out" Addison Lee’s arguments -- or make it fork out deposits.

Agreeing to its request from March, the employment tribunal this month ordered Addison Lee to pay the £125,000 deposits if it wants to keep arguing against drivers who drove for the firm between July 2014 and May 2016.

'Re-litigating the same arguments without fresh evidence'

Sounding pleased that Addison Lee will forfeit £1,000 for each claimant if they re-run worker status arguments for this period and lose, is Leigh Day’s Ms Jeffries.

“The fact that Addison Lee has been ordered by the tribunal to pay deposits in order to continue to fight these claims sends a message that [the courts] will not allow employers to get away with re-litigating the same arguments without fresh evidence,” the lawyer told FreelanceUK.

“There will be a remedy hearing in March 2024 to decide what compensation they [the three original drivers] should receive. Of the rest of the claimants, some have been waiting for resolution since 2017 and some have joined [the claim] much more recently…[and] drivers continue to join”.

'Addison has avoided paying drivers as workers for five years'

Told by FreelanceUK that tribunals appear to be siding with claims from individuals wanting more rights from their 'gig economy' engagers, rather than siding with the engagers, Jeffries declined to be drawn.

But she did acknowledge the long road that claimants – at least those in the Addison case -- have little choice but to endure.

“The length of time it takes for these cases to be heard, including appeals, means [Addison Lee] have avoided paying drivers as workers for over five years," Jeffries alleged. "We hope that they will realise that they have no choice but to now pay their hard-working drivers what we say they are owed.”

'Legal landscape for genuinely self-employed to emerge unaltered'

Potentially reassuring for the genuinely self-employed, the Leigh Day lawyer also said case law for such like bonafide freelancers professionals was unlikely to be disturbed, almost regardless of the outcome.

“Where individuals are genuinely self-employed contractors, this decision won’t change the legal landscape,” Jeffries said.

“The [latest ET] decision suggests that tribunals are not going to allow employers to get away arguing individuals are independent contractors when the same working practices apply, and where there has already been a positive judgment for workers. We hope this will encourage workers to claim what they are owed.”

'Long, stressful, expensive'

There is also a hope that the Addison case might deter other contractual parties from leaving status as an afterthought.

Ahead of Addison Lee’s decision as to whether it will pay the £125,000 deposits, Nicole Slowey of status advisory Qdos warned: “Engage individuals under the wrong employment status and businesses run the risk of long, stressful and expensive legal ordeals.

“[This order against Addison Lee serves as] an important reminder of why joined-up employment status decisions – which all parties agree on from the word go – are so important.”

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