Fairly recently, the gig economy seems to have flown off the hinges off the working world. Suddenly contract workers and freelancers became en vogue. Perhaps it was due to the growing need for side cash or those who saw the rollercoaster ride of layoffs didn’t want to be tethered to one company that may inevitably pull the rug from underneath them. It happened so fast, but the last 2-3 years of the Uber boom undoubtedly boosted the legal pitfalls of the gig economy in all of its forms.
Uber and its derivatives became a cab driver’s worst nightmare. Gone were the days of having to hail a cab on the street or phoning a cab company only to wait for an indefinite amount of time for a ride that may or may not break the bank. Enter Uber: mobile app and lifesaver where users can schedule a pickup, know how long the wait will be, and around how much it will cost, often at a fraction of typical taxi fares. It was convenient and effective. However, it was poorly structured when it came to its drivers. Drivers of Uber can use their own vehicles and the only real restrictions involve background checks and the size of the cars. Uber drivers were regarded as their own little entities despite affixing a company logo to their cars’ dashboards. The drama escalated around 2015, when the Affordable Care Act (ACA) became effective against employers who didn’t offer their full-time employees healthcare. That included full-time employees who would clock in the ACA’s 30 hours of service threshold to be considered full-time hours. It was a problem Uber may not have anticipated, considering most drivers flip on the Uber switch for short shifts and seemingly not considered employees let alone reach that “full-time” status. However, one driver did for a matter of weeks, and per the ACA, could potentially trigger the obligation to offer healthcare if that driver was deemed an “employee.”
That could have been a turning point for the gig economy.
At the top of 2017, Uber agreed to cough up $20 million dollars in a lawsuit involving the FTC for “misleading” its drivers and underpaying them. To date, Uber is still tangled in a number of lawsuits ranging from employee classification suits to even a recent one where Uber was found to be tracking its drivers that also signed on as Lyft drivers by use of a “Hell” software program.
While places like London are finding ways to make the gig economy work for everyone, it’s still a cautionary tale for employers worldwide. The gig economy will only continue to grow, but so should the awareness that not everyone likes to do the work without the title and everything that comes with it.