In July 2015, the Department of Labor issued guidelines regarding the “misclassification” of workers. It argued that any worker who is “economically dependent” on the employer should be considered an employee. A worker who is involved in a business independently however, on behalf of himself or herself should be regarded as an independent contractor. Multiple factors are considered in determining whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. This test is sometimes referred to as the “economic realities test.”
The classification of a worker as either an employee or independent contractor is significant for a company and its workers. The rationale behind such classification is that employees should be better protected and entitled to benefits as they are financially and professionally dependent on their employer. Independent contractors, however, are seen as having their own business and thus cannot claim several benefits from the business for which they are providing services including, but not limited to, minimum wage, overtime compensation, family and medical leave, unemployment insurance, and protections ensuring a safe workplace. As such, whether a business classifies its staff as employees or independent contractors will inevitably have major implications as it relates to overhead, payroll, profit margins, and taxes.
This classification again became newsworthy for Uber drivers when Uber, an on-demand car service, was confronted with the issue of whether its drivers should be considered independent contractors or employees. It is Uber’s longstanding practice of classifying its drivers as independent contractors rather than employees. Now the California Labor Commissioner, presented with this specific question, has opposed, in its interpretation of law, Uber’s basic and longstanding practice.
On September 16, 2014, an Uber driver named Barbara Ann Berwick filed a wage complaint with the California Labor Commissioner. Berwick sought, among other things, reimbursement for business expenses, such as gas and bridge tolls. Uber argued that since Berwick was not an employee, she could not be compensated for such expenses. In June 2015, the California Labor Commissioner argued in favor of the driver. It disagreed with Uber and awarded Berwick over $4,000 in business expenses and interest. In arriving at its decision, the Labor Commissioner applied the “economic realities” test adopted by the California Supreme Court in S. G. Borello& Sons, Inc. v. Department of Industrial Relations. Variations of this “economic realities” test are applied throughout the country, including New York. Based on this multifactor test, the Labor Commissioner held that Berwick was in fact an employee. Uber lost the case but has appealed the Commissioner’s decision.
If you have questions regarding the classification of employees, independent contractors, and the implications of either classification, or need advice regarding labor and employment law, please call Gilbert Law Group at 631.630.0100.
Contributed by Sakine Oezcan