“You can hide behind technology, but the laws are there, and they need to be obeyed and respected,” Mr. Aslam, 36, said in an interview. “The impact of this ruling could affect thousands of drivers, and not just drivers but millions of workers across the U.K.”
“It just means we can’t be exploited,” he added.
In a statement made after the ruling, Uber’s acting head in Britain, Tom Elvidge, said the company would appeal the decision to the Court of Appeal or to Britain’s Supreme Court.
A series of scandals have toppled executives, including Travis Kalanick, Uber’s co-founder.
The employment case is one of several challenges facing Uber. Though the service has expanded at a breakneck pace and grown into a behemoth valued at $ 70 billion, it has grappled allegations that it does not do enough to vet its drivers and revelations that it used software to evade the gaze of the authorities, among other issues.
Complaints of an aggressive workplace culture forced its founder, Travis Kalanick, to resign this year as chief executive. He was replaced by Dara Khosrowshahi, who has introduced a more conciliatory style. He sought to win over the London transport authorities with a charm offensive last month.
Mr. Khosrowshahi’s shift comes at a crucial time. Uber is targeting an initial public offering in 2019, and is working on securiting a multibillion dollar investment from SoftBank, the Japanese conglomerate.
And in an effort to win over customers and drivers concerned about its reputation, the company has introduced new measures and services, like allowing users add tips to their fares. Uber has also promoted its efforts, particularly in Britain, to provide drivers with benefits like access to a pension and insurance.
The company’s operations in London are crucial to its global expansion. It first began offering its services in the city in 2012, but is now present in dozens of cities nationwide. Some 40,000 people drive for Uber in the British capital, and it claims three million customers have used the app in London at least once in the past three months.
The arrival of Uber in London has, however, created a clash with the city’s iconic black cabs. The centuries-old taxi system requires its drivers to pass an exacting test known as The Knowledge, where they must memorize around 25,000 streets and 100,000 landmarks. Black cabs are typically far more expensive than Uber’s services, which cabbies complain are too lightly regulated.
The challenge over its hiring practices strikes at the heart of Uber’s business model. The company faces a similar challenge in Europe — the region’s highest court is expected to rule by the end of the year in a case over whether the company should be regulated as a taxi service, which would make it subject to rigorous safety and employment rules, or as a digital platform that simply connects independent drivers to passengers.
Labor experts say that laws in most countries have failed to keep up with the development of technology and the spread of the gig economy. In Britain, for example, the main piece of legislation that regulates how workers are treated was passed in 1996.
“The legislation is old,” said Susannah Kintish, a partner at the law firm Mishcon de Reya specializing in employment law. “It came out when the Spice Girls had their first hit, it’s just way out of date.”