Is Uber Driving Us Toward a New Class of Worker?

Technology has radically changed the way we work.  It has freed us from notions of a static physical worksite and turned many Starbucks into a business center.  It has upended traditional ideas of work schedules and work days in ways that are both good and bad.  It has also created what has been termed “the online gig economy” which allows people to opt in and out of jobs in ways that simply would not have been possible in the past.

It’s time our labor and employment laws catch up with the way we work.   Most of our current labor and employment laws either arose out of old common laws or derive from laws adopted during the Great Depression.

A recent New York Times article suggests that the online ride sharing services Uber and Lyft could be the catalyst for change.  Both companies face lawsuits by drivers seeking to challenge their business model which treats drivers as independent contractors rather than employees.  The Times quotes a federal judge hearing one of the cases as commenting that “’the jury in this case will be handed a square peg and asked to choose between two round holes.’”

According to the  Times, this issue has attracted the attention of President Obama’s former Chief Economist and a former deputy labor secretary who recently argued that “forcing these new forms of work into a traditional employment relationship could be an existential threat to the emergence of online-intermediated work.”

As the online economy grows, could this drive us to update our laws to match the way we work?

Posted in Employment Law, General, Independent Contractor, Wage and Hour.