Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

California court decision poses a major threat to Uber and Lyft: minimum wage laws

May 1st, 2018 | Laura Clawson

The business model at Uber and other “gig economy” companies could take a big hit in California, thanks to a new state Supreme Court ruling—the companies might be forced to follow labor laws like paying the minimum wage. Currently, many companies classify their workers as independent contractors who aren’t eligible for a raft of legal protections, protections that cost employers money. But the California Supreme Court ruled that delivery drivers for Dynamex Operations West are eligible for minimum wage and overtime protections:

The ruling applies to disputes under state Industrial Welfare Commission orders that set standards for minimum wages and overtime payments required for all workers who are classified as employees, but not for independent contractors. Companies like Dynamex, as well as Uber and Lyft, have classified their drivers as contractors and argued that they have enough control over their working lives — setting their own hours, with the freedom to drive for other companies — to be called independent.

But the court said the company, to justify contractor status, must prove, first, that the worker is free, in everyday tasks, from the company’s “control and direction”; second, that the work is “outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business”; and third, that the worker is regularly engaged in an independent occupation or business of the same type he or she is performing for the company.

For example, [Chief Justice Tani] Cantil-Sakauye said, a store that hires an outside plumber to fix a leak, or an electrician to install a new line, could consider them contractors. But a clothing manufacturer that hires seamstresses who work at home to make dresses that the company will sell has hired them to perform work in its usual line of business and must pay them as employees.

The ruling did not address other issues, such as payment of work expenses, workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits, which are covered by separate laws. But Kevin Ruf, a lawyer for about 300 Dynamex drivers who will now be allowed to pursue their case as a class action, said the court’s rationale should help workers seeking employee status overall.

This isn’t over—companies will fight this out case by case, spending huge amounts of money on lawyers to avoid having to pay their workers minimum wage and overtime (and other benefits and protections that might follow). But it’s a step in the right direction.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on May 1, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at DailyKos.

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