Legal

Uber chief hits back at work safety claims: Will letting your employees use UberX find you in hot water?

Kirsten Robb /

Letting your employees catch an UberX ride instead of a taxi home after a work function could breach your duty of care and could potentially open you up to criminal penalties, workplace lawyers Holding Redlich have warned in Fairfax newspapers this morning.

The popular ride sharing service has come under fire for being unsafe for passengers in the past, but Holding Redlich senior associate Joel Zyngier says the unregulated industry presents a liability issue for SMEs.

Zyngier told SmartCompany under work health and safety legislation (WHS), an employer has a primary duty of care to take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure the health and safety of its workers while at work, including the vehicle in which an employee is travelling for work.

“Employers have to choose the travel option that is the safest,” says Zyngier.

“If there is a safer option, employers must choose it, in the same way that if there was a safer way for a machine to be guarded, they must choose that.”

Zyngier says the highly regulated taxi industry mandates on-board cameras and regular vehicle checks, both of which UberX does not.

“Looking at it objectively, I think a reasonable employer would have to conclude a taxi is a safer mode of transport,” he says.

Zyngier also says the cost difference for an SME is minimal and should not sway an employer when deciding how best to get an employee to or from work.

“Small employers should realise the cheaper option should not be preferred when it is not the safer option,” he adds.

Zyngier says a breach of the relevant WHS laws within a state or territory could lead to prosecution and penalties, including potential criminal charges.

But David Rohrsheim, general manager of Uber Australia and New Zealand, has hit back, releasing a statement to SmartCompany today slamming the comments.

“Based on the comments made to Fairfax by Holding Redlich, they appear not to have researched our processes, our thorough background checks or insurance standards, leading us to conclude their opinion was made on less than all the facts,” Rohrsheim says.

Rohrsheim says all UberX drivers have cleared criminal history and driving history background checks and all UberX trips are fully insured and backed by $US5 million ($6.5 million) of contingent liability cover.

“In addition, the safety features of the app means that the anonymity that exists with taxi trips is removed,” he says.

“The rider has the driver’s name, photograph, registration plate and car model before they enter the vehicle and can watch the car arrive at their pick up location so there is no standing out on the street trying to hail an anonymous ride.”

“Further, if they choose to, the rider can share their journey in real time with a friend who can see the car travelling and arriving at the destination.”

Rohrsheim says since its launch last year, Uber for Business has safely driven thousands of employees while “making huge savings for their companies and having clear and easy ways to expense their travel”.

“We suggest people who are interested in the Uber platform join the millions around the world who ride with Uber every day and experience its superior safety standards and features for themselves,” Rohrsheim adds.

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Kirsten Robb

Kirsten Robb is a former journalist at SmartCompany. Previously, she worked at News Corp as a property reporter for Leader Newspapers and the Herald Sun, and holds a Masters of Journalism at Melbourne University.

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