Gig News: Brazilian Judge Finds Uber Driver Is Employee

Jon Weinberg

Jon Weinberg is a student at Harvard Law School.

A labor court judge in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil has found that an Uber driver there is an employee of the company, taking the debate over the classification of drivers to another country.  The Brazilian newspaper Zero Hora reports that the decision is the first in Brazil to recognize Uber as an employer of drivers.  According to Reuters, the judge “ordered Uber to pay one driver around 30,000 reais ($10,000) in compensation for overtime, night shifts, holidays and expenses such as gasoline, water and candy for passengers.”  Uber announced that it will appeal the decision.  The ruling only applies to a single driver, but could open the door to more challenges.

Brazilian news portal G1 notes that the judge applied a multi-factor test for employment status under Brazilian law.  Key factors included that a) users are assigned a driver by Uber, unable to select from options; b) Uber (not the passenger) pays drivers at the end of each week after withdrawing a percentage, thus going beyond simple mediation of passenger-driver business; c) transport is Uber’s primary business, as partially evidenced by its investment in automobiles vehicles; and d) Uber drivers are submissive to the company, forced to comply with strict rules in order to drive for the company.

Zero Hora also emphasized that the judge found that drivers were encouraged to drive regularly despite flexibility, and that Uber engaged in a hiring process by approving drivers.

For its part, per Reuters, Uber “said in a statement that it was appealing the decision, citing a contradictory ruling by another labor judge in Minas Gerais two weeks ago.”  Uber claims that “drivers are free to set their own hours, cancel or pass on trips and use competing apps, making them service providers rather than employees.”

Notably, per Zero Hora, the judge relied in part on a recent finding by a British employment tribunal that Uber drivers are not self-employed independent contractors, but rather Uber workers.  The judge also commented on the “uberization” of the economy and the need to protect the rights and dignity of workers in the new economy.

With the ruling, Uber now faces appellate legal challenges to its classification of drivers as independent contractors on three continents and counting.

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