Gig News: NLJ Update on Gig Economy Legislation and Lawsuits

Jon Weinberg

Jon Weinberg is a student at Harvard Law School.

Last week, The National Law Journal published an update on state legislation and lawsuits regarding the classification of gig economy workers as independent contractors.

First, the article noted that the Florida Legislature has passed a bill, expected to be signed into law by Governor Rick Scott, “that classifies drivers for companies such as Uber and Lyft as independent contractors rather than employees, marking the latest state to attempt to regulate the rapidly growing and litigious ride-hailing workforce.”  Other states that have passed similar legislation include Arkansas, West Virginia and Colorado.

The article quoted Shannon Liss-Riordan, an attorney who has represented drivers in several cases against Uber and Lyft challenging the classification of drivers as independent contractors:

“By classifying drivers as contractors, the companies avoid all the responsibility of being an employer and shift the cost of doing business in hopes of avoiding liability for unemployment or workers’ compensation.”

Liss-Riordan also commented on the enforceability of the Florida bill:

The Florida bill establishes regulations for a business dubbed a “transportation network company” in the state.  It establishes minimum insurance requirements, background screenings for the drivers and some consumer protection provisions.  It also requires an independent review to be conducted in the case.

Florida cannot legislate federal law, so it’s unclear what relevance this law would have, Liss-Riordan of Boston’s Lichten & Liss-Riordan said.  She said she has not seen a law passed that would affect wage laws of a particular state, but such measures could be a “slippery slope” that could shirk federal protections for workers.

“It’s a dangerous thing for states to go in and carve out exceptions to wage laws for these companies that have been growing in popularity,” she said.  “Why do they need a special pass on employment laws?  I don’t understand why they would take protections away from workers to help these companies get richer.”

Finally, the article noted recent developments in the courts, including a Second Circuit ruling that “black car” drivers are properly classified as independent contractors, despite an argument by the Department of Labor that the drivers should be considered employees.

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