Risk & Economy » The new fleet demands of the gig economy

The self-employed status of more than 1m UK-based ‘work platform’ workers means they do not currently have access to Statutory Holiday Entitlement, Statutory Sick Pay or access to an Auto-Enrolment Pension. What’s more, their employers don’t have to pay National Insurance Contributions on their highly-flexible workforce’s pay.

However, as well all know this status may be about to change. Last year’s ‘Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices’ identified gig economy workers as ‘dependent contractors’ who should be able to claim key employment rights. And we are seeing a rash of legal cases linked to the blurring fault line between self-employed and full employment status which many employment contracts now illustrate.

Many of these cases have been covered in some depth elsewhere in People Management so I will set aside speculation on whether Pimlico Plumbers will overturn the recent UK Supreme Court judgement on appeal. But suffice to say the tide is moving against gig economy-style employers here in the UK.

If work platform-dependent workers will indeed gain dependent contractor worker status, then it’s not much of a leap to argue that the vehicles those workers use, while discharging their duties, will become the responsibility of those work platforms. Interestingly, most work platform workers today are driving goods, spare parts and/or people around using their own vehicles. In other words, the likes of Uber and Airbnb could find themselves responsible for some of the largest grey fleets in the country.

Fit for purpose

One principle consideration then is that transport-based work platforms could become overtly responsible for making sure the vehicles which their workers are driving are roadworthy, have valid insurance for business usage, up-to-date MOT and road tax on them. They will also need to monitor their dependent contractors’ driving license status, determine whether they have the right license to drive the vehicle they are using, are driving safely and taking sufficient breaks during long journeys. They also need to know immediately if they’ve been banned from driving, and whether they’ve passed an eye test recently.

The law’s clear: when workers use their own vehicles for business travel, their employer is not absolved from their duty of care responsibilities. This means grey fleets must be managed as effectively as company-owned or leased vehicles. Failure to do so exposes employers to penalties, prosecutions, or even corporate manslaughter charges in the event of their workers vehicles being involved in a fatal accident.

The British Vehicle Rental & Leasing Association (BVRLA) makes it clear in its ‘Getting to Grips with Grey Fleet’ guide that businesses with large grey fleets naturally expose their companies to large legal risks, including a higher likelihood of being found responsible for the use of a vehicle that is inappropriate for the business use it is being employed for.

One recent study by Lex Autolease found that 41% of existing employers surveyed admitted to being not fully-aware of the employer Duty of Care regulations within the Health and Safety at Work Act and how they impact the grey fleet.

Recent studies looking at the state of the UK’s grey fleets chime with concerns that will be raised about Government action on recommendations contained in the Taylor Review. They suggest organisations that operate on grey fleet models should urgently review and reform their own procedures to ensure they comply with laws regarding employer responsibilities for employee-owned vehicles.

However, what is also clear is that work platform businesses are run by people who are, first and foremost, used to running technology businesses. They’ve got ahead by creating highly-available online platforms which rapidly connect people with an array of tasks which need to be completed in a timely manner.

Platforms may not take kindly to being told they need to make sure all their drivers’ vehicles are in great working order. But it won’t be long before we see test cases in this area too if platforms don’t address their potential grey fleet risk exposures.

Cloud-based fleet management software suite ODO is a business unit of Drive Software Solutions