The Employment Court’s ruling in Leota v Parcel Express  NZEmpC 61 held that a courier drive (Mr Leota) was an employee, entitled to the rights attached to that status under the Employment Relations Act (ERA), despite having signed a contract describing him as an independent contractor to the deliveries company he worked for. was an employee rather than a contractor
Previously it was thought that courier drivers generally are independent contractors rather than employees, ruling out the benefits that employees receive under the ERA.
However, the determination of a person’s status as employee or independent contractor does not hinge on the label given to the worker in the contract. In Leota the Employment Court found that Mr Leota was in substance an employee of Parcel Express.
The Court had no difficulty reaching its conclusion, based on the assessment of the relevant facts, but also stressed that its ruling was fact-specific. The decision may not be in itself as impactful or precedent-setting as courier drivers would like. But it is an encouraging development for others who may be facing similar situations.
Here the most influential factors for the Employment Court were Mr Leota’s limited understanding of the employee vs. independent contractor distinction, minimal business acumen, his limited English, and the limited opportunities to increase his remuneration. In previous cases, drivers’ ownership of their vehicle weighed in favour of their having the status of an independent contractor. Here Mr Leota did not own the vehicle he used to make deliveries.