Employers who wish to utilize independent contractors in their business model may often do so, however, adequate review of the employers' documents and practices is crucial to a successful business plan based on an independent contractor workforce. This week, Uber learned this lesson the hard way.
On September 1, 2015, U.S. District Judge, Edward Chen, authorized the certification of a class action in a lawsuit against Uber Technologies, Inc. for worker misclassification of Uber drivers. The drivers claimed they were misclassified as "independent contractors," and rather are properly classified as "employees." Thus, if the court eventually sides with Uber, the ride-share company would be subject to penalties, applicable lost wages or overtime wages, California and federal law regarding unfair competition, worker benefits, and employment taxes.
On June 3, 2015, the California Labor Commissioner found an Uber driver to be an employee, and thus eligible for reimbursement for mileage and other expenses while providing rides for the tech company, which claims to be engaged in the business of providing lead generation to transportation providers using its mobile application. (Berwick v. Uber Technologies, Inc., Labor Commissioner Case No.: 11-46739 EK http://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/04954780-Page0-20.pdf) Uber Technologies Inc. is appealing the decision in the Superior Court of California, County of San Francisco. This case coincides with recent federal court wage and hour claims, in which Uber and a similar provider, Lyft, are defending claims that the transportation providers are employees and misclassified as independent contractors. (O'Connor v. Uber Technologies, Inc., No. 3:13-cv-03826-EMC (N.D. Cal. Mar. 11, 2015); Cotter v. Lyft, Inc., No. 3:13-cv-04065-VC (N.D. Cal. Mar. 11, 2015))
When I left the California EDD's Legal Office over two years ago, I predicted that the "rideshare" software application companies, Uber and Lyft, would soon come under scrutiny for worker classification issues. My prediction was correct. For the past few months, developments have occurred in two federal wage and hour lawsuits involving these two companies, and centering on issues of worker classification.