Employment Rights in the Platform Economy: Getting Back to Basics
The employment status of workers for “platform economy” firms such as Uber, Lyft, TaskRabbit and Handy has become a significant legal and political issue. Lawsuits against several such companies allege that they have misclassified workers as independent contractors to evade employment law obligations. Various lawmakers and commentators, pointing to the complexity of existing tests for employment and the costs of employment duties, have responded with proposals to limit platform companies’ liability. This article steps into such debates, using the status of Uber drivers as a test case. It argues that Uber drivers may not fall neatly into either the “employee” or the “independent contractor” category under existing tests. Nevertheless, an important principle underlying those tests — the anti-domination principle — strongly indicates that the drivers are employees. That principle also indicates that proposals to limit platform economy firms’ liabilities are premature at best and misguided at worst.