Delivery company employment practices are once again under the microscope as a widow of a former DPD driver is suing the parcel delivery company after he failed to attend hospital appointments to avoid being charged £150 for missing work.
DPD has since scrapped the fees, introduced a new ‘Driver Code’ and offers self-employed drivers sick and holiday pay. But Don Lane’s widow, Ruth, has lodged a claim at an employment tribunal in Bristol which alleges Lane was ill but went to work due to his fear of being fined for failing to attend work without permission.
In January this year, Lane completed his delivery route for DPD but later collapsed suffering from a heart attack and died shortly afterwards in hospital.
A ruling on the case is expected towards the end of this year.
A spokesman for DPD told Fleet News it was unable to comment on employment tribunal matters and whether the case had directly led to the introduction of new employment practices.
Philip Richardson, partner and head of employment law at Stephensons, has been advising fleet clients to review their employment contracts and policies in light of the high-profile tribunal cases related to the so-called gig economy*.
He said: “Tribunals will be careful to review the contracts companies have in place to ensure that what happens in reality is reflected in their terms and conditions.
“Companies can no longer bury their heads in the sand with these things and we have an obligation to make our clients aware of clear, financial consequences if they don’t review contracts accordingly.”
The employment tribunal heard that DPD had charged Lane £150 when he attended one specialist renal appointment and he then didn’t go to follow-up appointments as a result. He had collapsed twice during his delivery rounds prior to his death, including once while at the wheel.
His widow’s claim, filed by solicitors Leigh Day, said: “DPD’s refusal to give permission for the claimant to take time off to attend these appointments meant his disability was not properly monitored and that he did not have the opportunity to receive the appropriate treatments for his disability and related conditions, ultimately resulting in his death.”
DPD said its new Driver Code, which was rolled out in July this year, “aims to improve every aspect of our drivers’ working relationship with the company, from the type of contract they choose to the van they drive”.
The code offers all DPD drivers the equivalent of at least the Real Living Wage (£10.20 per hour inside London, £8.45 per hour outside the capital).
DPD’s £150 fine system was replaced by a points-based ‘Service Failure System’ to monitor service delivery and contract performance. Drivers are briefed on the new system before they join and DPD says there is a ‘full review’ before any points are allocated.
To ensure that all its self-employed drivers receive at least the equivalent of the Real Living Wage, DPD is monitoring their earnings on a monthly basis. This process is independently audited.
DPD has also introduced three employment categories – employed driver, self-employed worker and self-employed franchisee and given drivers the choice to choose between them.
Existing drivers and new drivers have been able to apply for an ‘Owner Driver Worker’ contract from September 24.
All new DPD drivers can start as an employed driver before deciding if they wish to be a self-employed worker, a self-employed franchisee, or remain as an employee. Before becoming self-employed, they will have access to free, independent business advice from approved suppliers.
The initial application window will run until the end of this month (October 31). After this date, drivers will still have the option to switch at their contract anniversary each year.
The DPD spokesman said it was too early to comment on how its workforce contracts had shifted in light of the new categories.
Richardson said for smaller companies to introduce the same employment changes as DPD, it wouldn’t take much time, but larger companies would likely involve lengthy consultation.
He said: “Changing employment contracts may involve amending or changing terms and seeking agreement on the same.
“The cost involved will also be dependent on the size and scale of the business and changes involved. However, that initial investment is likely to be far more beneficial than the consequence of not taking any action and litigation being taken against the company.”
*The gig economy is a labour market characterised by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs.