QCOSTARICA – The Juzgado de Trabajo del Tercer Circuito Judicial de San José (San José Labor Court) sentenced UBER, the company that provides mobility as a service/ride-hailing, food delivery/package delivery/couriers, to pay a former driver the Aguinaldo (year-end bonus), vacations, and matters relating to pensions, between 2017 and 2022, the period in which he worked.
The Court concluded that there was an employment relationship between UBER and the plaintiff.
The decision by Judge Carolina Fallas Sánchez is expected to set the stage for similar claims that are submitted by other drivers.
Fallas Sánchez recalled the concept regarding the figure of the worker contained in article 2 of the Labor Code, indicating that it is “any natural person who provides material or intellectual services to another or others, or both, by virtue of an employment contract which can be express, implicit, verbal, written, individual or collective”; while article 18 provides that an employment relationship, regardless of the name, arises when a person provides his services to another, under the dependency regime (immediate or delegated), in exchange for remuneration.
In total, the judge explained four reasons why she determined that there was a labor relationship.
In the first place, it was determined that the service provided by the plaintiff driver was of a personal nature, which is a characteristic condition of the employment contract as extracted from the “Terms and Conditions” document where the conditions for being part of the Club are established. The judge ruled that in the case under her study there was not the slightest doubt that the plaintiff driver provided a service in favor of another, which consisted of driving a vehicle to transfer people from one place to another.
As a second element, the judge added that the plaintiff received remuneration as a result of the service provided, characteristic and necessary of employment contracts. One of the pieces of evidence indicated by the judge to reach that determination was that Uber sent a weekly message with the cut of the trips made, the amount of the profits generated deposited in the bank account, and the rates applied.
Thirdly, the judge also determined that there is subordination between the driver and Uber, since the plaintiff was subject to orders and guidelines from Uber, but given the particularity of the service and the way it is organized, the subordination evidenced special elements and different from that which occurs in traditional labor relations.
According to judge Fallas Sánchez, the plaintiff had to accept or sign a digital contract, not a physical one, as commonly happens, a document that was presented to him by the application itself and for which he had no opportunity to negotiate, constituting an instrument of adhesion, whose conditions imposed by Uber I had to accept to be able to provide the service.
Finally, and the most technical of all (fourth element), the judge determined that there was also alienation in the relationship. This condition consists in the fact that the fruits of the work are attributed to the employer, that is to say, that the product of the service provided does not belong to the worker (driver), but is incorporated directly into the employer’s assets. According to the judge, this element is also fulfilled since the payments made by the users go directly to Uber (with the exception of cash payments) and the latter, through the application, determines how much corresponds to the driver and makes the payment.
The sentence also indicates that alienation is confirmed by the fact that when a user has a claim, they make it directly to Uber and not to the driver, as would happen in the case of a self-employed worker. It also pointed out that other demonstrative elements of alienation were that Uber had covered 80% of a traffic fine; and who provided legal support when the vehicle was confiscated by the authorities.
“Based on the foregoing, compliance with the essential requirements to determine that we are dealing with a labor contract is evidenced, since the actor provided a personal service, in exchange for remuneration, subject to a strong supervision regime, with clear evidence of alienation,” reads the sentence.
The judge affirmed that although the defendants (UBER) tried to distort the labor nature of the relationship by calling it in many different ways such as: partner, driver, affiliate, user, trustee or beneficiary, “nothing eliminates his status as a worker, as provided by our labor regulations, because, in the opinion of this judge, it is not feasible for a person who only has his own labor force, which he makes available to an economic conglomerate, to be considered a partner, an entrepreneur or a self-employed worker”.
The judge recalled that in labor matters there is a guiding principle, according to which reality must prevail over the forms or appearances of the relationship or the parties involved in it.
“Although the collaborative economy system, or rather digital platforms, implies a change in the way a service is provided or accessed, this transformation and the many others that will arise in the future, given technological advances, It cannot be to the detriment of workers and the rights inherent to them,” Fallas Sánchez concluded.
For its part, UBER has held that it is a “technology company that makes its platforms available so that collaborating partners who so wish and independently can generate additional profits.”
The company did not express publicly an opinion on the ruling handed down to all parties on Monday.