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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 practicable 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 depends 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.