Wednesday 12 October 2016 2:56 pm

A legal decision on the status of Uber drivers is imminent

Uber drivers could receive a judgement as soon as today in a landmark legal case that could decide the status of millions of people working across the growing gig economy and potentially disrupt the billion dollar startup's business in Britain.

An employment tribunal will make a decision based on the arguments of drivers, represented by law firm Leigh Day and the GMB union, who say they are workers and are entitled to benefits such as sick pay and holiday.

Uber considers drivers, which number 30,000 in the UK, self-employed and calls them "partners".

The case, which was heard in July, is the first to look at what's been seen as a legal grey area in the so-called gig economy, which a third of the UK now consider themselves a part of a new report revealed this week.

Read more: Drawing up new employment law for the gig economy won't be easy

"There are a lot of grey areas over whether someone is self-employed and factors that courts look at when trying to determine whether someone is truly self- employed, and include whether the work has to be provided personally, whether the company has to offer the individual work and whether work has to be accepted," said employment partner at Bircham Dyson Bell, Nicholas Le Riche.

Uber said the case involves "a very small number" of drivers and the majority enjoy being their own boss.

Figures from a study by ORB and commissioned by Uber out today, show the majority of drivers are happy with the flexibility the work provides.

It found nearly 90 per cent were satisfied and a similar number would recommend being an Uber driver to others, while 92 per cent said the it was a good company to work for. 

Just over three quarters of the 1,000 drivers surveyed in the UK said they preferred being self-employed and choosing thier own hours compared to just 16 per cent who said they would prefer to have the benefits of being employed.

"It is clear that drivers are using the app in many ways to fit around their own schedules. The one thing that is consistent throughout the findings is that people who drive with Uber really value the freedom and flexibility of being their own boss," said managing director of ORB International Johnny Heald.

A report from McKinsey earlier this week revealed the number of people classed as independent workers is much higher than previous estimates, with as many as 14m Brits either freelancing, working temporarily, selling items on eBay or driving an Uber.

It echoed the findings from ORB, noting that the majority of those in the gig economy were either supplementing their income or were actively choosing this type of work.  

Read more: Uber vs black cabs row proves one thing – driverless cars are the future

If the judgement goes against Uber and in favour of the drivers, it has the potential to set a new precedent.

"If the drivers are successful, the potential reverberations are huge; there are 30,000 Uber drivers in London alone and given that Uber is a multi-national company, the impact could be far reaching," said the head of employment law at Thomson Snell & Passmore, Nick Hobden.

"There will likely be substantial compensatory pay-outs to the new ‘employees’, not to mention increasing their rights and protection, as well as paving the way for similar cases. Whether the appropriate tax has been paid will need to be considered and for those who are eligible, Uber will need to consider enrolling its employees onto its auto-enrolment pension scheme."

The case is the first of several to get to the tribunal stage and while a decision could come as soon as today it may still be several weeks until a judgement is handed down.