In the past few years, the American workforce has shifted dramatically. By some estimates, as many as 53 million Americans are now self-employed. Many of them work in the “gig” or “on demand” economy, which has emerged as the new norm for doing business. In general, the gig economy offers traditional services, such as transportation, food delivery, and housing, in a more efficient way by connecting consumers directly to service providers. But, as with many innovations, gig economy companies face challenges from multiple fronts due to mounting legal pressures. Employment laws written in the 1930s haven’t kept up with the pace of innovation, and trying to apply them to the way services are delivered today is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. READ MORE
Effective June 7, 2017, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) has withdrawn informal guidance on independent contractors and joint employment. The guidance on independent contractors came from an Administrator’s Interpretation released in 2015 and was the result of the DOL’s renewed focus on worker misclassification. In it, the DOL seized upon a broad definition of “employ” under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”)—“to suffer or permit to work”—to conclude that “most workers are employees under the FLSA.” The DOL’s guidance on joint employment was released in 2016 and also came from an Administrator’s Interpretation. The guidance provided a broad interpretation of joint employment in the wake of the NLRB’s Browning-Ferris decision. It also distinguished between “horizontal” joint employment, which occurs when the employee has an employment relationship with two or more sufficiently related employers, and “vertical” joint employment, which occurs when the employee has an employment relationship with one employer (such a staffing agency or subcontractor), but economic realities show that he or she is economically dependent upon another entity.
In a press release announcing the withdrawn guidance, the DOL noted, “Removal of the administrator interpretations does not change the legal responsibilities of employers under the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, as reflected in the department’s long-standing regulations and case law. The department will continue to fully and fairly enforce all laws within its jurisdiction, including the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act.”
The Second Circuit has affirmed the dismissal of a class action of New York City “black car” drivers who alleged they were misclassified as independent contractors by their dispatchers. In reaching its ruling, the Court found that multiple factors of the economic realities test weighed against employee status for the drivers.
Black car drivers provide rides to high-end clientele, such as business executives, celebrities, and dignitaries. In 2012, a class of drivers sued Corporate Transportation Group Ltd. and a number of its affiliates (collectively, the “dispatchers”) alleging they were misclassified as independent contractors in violation of the FLSA and New York Labor Law. After originally granting conditional class certification, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted the dispatchers’ motion for summary judgment, concluding the drivers were properly classified as independent contractors under both statutes. READ MORE
Companies operating in the “on-demand” or “gig economy” have enjoyed tremendous success in recent years, as emerging technologies and shifts in consumer tastes have buoyed their growth. These companies span a cross-section of industries (transportation, food delivery, lodging) but have one thing in common: each aims to deliver traditional services more efficiently by connecting consumers directly with service providers.
But as we all know by now, success often begets legal challenges. Take Uber, for example. The company has faced a thicket of litigation in recent years, most notably related to the question of whether its drivers are employees or independent contractors.
Like many companies in today’s economy, Uber has implemented an arbitration policy as a way to efficiently resolve disputes. Below we recap some of the developments in this area and preview some legal issues that companies will want to monitor in the months ahead. READ MORE