Employers face “Uber” problems
There has been a huge growth in the “sharing economy” in the last 12 months. Two obvious examples are UberX and Airbnb.
The huge uptake of both services shows a vote of confidence by much of the population in their safety and efficiency. However lawyers are advising that employers who permit their employees to use UberX instead of a traditional taxi for work purposes face the risk of heavy penalties under work safety laws.
Here are the problems:
Employers must provide a safe system of work for their employees, including the use of employer funded travel to work meetings or similar, and paid accommodation out of town.
Clearly the use of a regulated taxi service satisfies the obligations of employers.
State licensing laws verify that taxi drivers are appropriately licensed and qualified to provide this service (although some of us may wonder from time to time).
Similarly, it is considered safe for employees to stay in recognised hotels when travelling for work but the same cannot be said for using unlicensed Airbnb accommodation.
Even though employees might be more than happy to use these services and employers are keen to save money, work health and safety laws still apply.
These laws require employers to do everything reasonably practical to provide a work environment without risks to health and safety of their employees.
This includes how employees travel for work purposes and where they stay.
Employers must choose the lowest risk option, which often comes down to the level of regulation by the authorities and whether a service is lawful.
As long as services like UberX and Airbnb remain largely unregulated, the risk to employers of prosecution and substantial penalties remains a problem.
The Queensland Work Health and Safety Act 2011 has three categories of offences for failing to comply with a health and safety duty under the Act which depend on the degree of seriousness or liability involved:
For a compliance failure that exposes a person to risk of death, serious injury or illness, penalties for companies can be up to $1.5 million.
For reckless breaches, penalties can extend to $3 million.
In addition, company directors and officers are personally exposed to fines up to $600,000.00 or five years in gaol.
So the next time one of your employees wants to use UberX to go to a meeting or to get home after drinks at work, employers must consider the risks before agreeing.