Uber Files - Key Learnings on Workplace Violence

By Matthew Reymes Cole
15 Jul 2022
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A recent leak of 124,000 records from Uber brings several issues to light. There is a lot to cover, so we’re going to tackle one issue at a time. In this article, we’re focusing on what the Uber Files can tell us about workplace violence.

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The taxi wars

While Uber has created a fair amount of opposition in several countries, perhaps the most violent response was in France. Paris was where the app first debuted in Europe. It’s low prices and accessibility saw Parisian taxis losing customers and income.

In 2014, cab drivers took to the streets in protest.

Taxi drivers attacked Ubers, many of them carrying passengers. Windows were smashed and tyres were slashed.

Uber CEO, Travis Kalanick, doubled down and created a brand-new service—UberPop. It was the cheapest option on the app and functioned like a ride share. If you were an UberPop driver, you didn’t need to have a professional license or be insured as a taxi driver. This meant taxi drivers completely lost their advantage.

Legal challenges and fines followed the move, and eventually a new law made UberPop illegal. Despite this, UberPop continued running.

In the summer of 2015, taxi drivers went on general strike, with some protests turning violent. On 3rd July 2015 UberPop was suspended.

In 2016, more violent taxi demonstrations began. In response, Kalanick proposed a counter-protest. An Uber executive flagged concerns over the safety of Uber drivers. Kalanick responded with:

“If we have 50,000 riders they won’t and can’t do anything… I think it’s worth it. Violence guarantee [sic] success.”

As a result, the protest went ahead. Fortunately, there were no violent incidents as a result. However, this wasn’t an isolated incident. The files leaked suggest violence against Uber driver was often exploited as part of Uber’s business strategy. For example. Uber sought to “keep the violence narrative going for a few days” when sharing reports of driver attacks with Dutch media.

 

Uber Files

 

Why does this matter?

As an employer, you have a duty of care towards your staff. If violence occurs in your workplace, you’ll be liable. In Uber’s case, they seemed to go a step further by encouraging violence.

This is problematic for many reasons. Obviously, this approach is dangerous, especially when it comes from the senior executives. This mindset will lead to poor retention, toxic culture, and ultimately somebody blowing the whistle. Uber is a prime example of how this can happen.

You could argue that Uber has seen international success. However, it has also been the focus of multiple scandals, had to pay significant fines, and is now dealing with a massive leak of records. The Uber Files are bound to have significant repercussions, both for the business itself and employment law internationally.

Managing workplace violence

So what could Uber have done differently?

By using violence as a tool to further their agenda, their policies on workplace violence were undermined. Documentation is important, but it is only half of the picture.

You can have a perfect policy; updated and published regularly. But, if you willingly put your employees in danger, or fail to address their concerns, you’ll likely find yourself at tribunal soon.

The opposite is also true. You may take workplace violence very seriously, but have no documentation to back you up. Having no formal process means that if an employee does make a claim, you have no formal procedure to back you up.

An act of violence will have a big impact on the employee directly affected, but it’ll also impact their colleagues too. Failing to manage it correctly will have a knock-on effect and may be the catalyst for mass resignations.

Here are some quick tips on how you can avoid this:

  • Issue a clear statement of no-tolerance for workplace violence
  • Assess threats with a risk assessment and reflect your findings in your policies
  • Encourage staff to report any instances of violence that occurs
  • Keep an eye out for employees who don’t get along
  • Address disputes and conflicts with an informal meeting before they escalate

You can read more about implementing a full workplace violence strategy here.

 

workplace violence strategy

 

Tackle workplace violence before it occurs

One of the major issues to come to light as a result of the Uber Files leak is an indifference to workplace violence and staff safety.

Part of your strategy to tackle violence in the workplace is to implement a robust policy. The other is to maintain a strong, consistent approach when violence does occur. Croner helps you with both.

Contact our documentation team and access 24/7 expert advice by calling 01455 858 132.

About the Author

Matthew Reymes-Cole

Matt joined Croner in 2007 as an employment law consultant and has advised clients of all sizes on all aspects of employment law. He has worked within management positions since 2017 and currently overseas a team within the litigation department, whilst continuing to support a number of clients directly.

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