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One of the priorities of the current administration is to police the alleged abuse of “gig workers,” particularly through the Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is now joining those agencies in the employee-protection business. The FTC recently announced it has initiated enforcement efforts to protect gig workers from alleged deception about pay, work hours, unfair contract terms, and anti-competitive practices.

According to the 17-page Policy Statement published by the FTC on September 15, 2022 (Statement), 16% of Americans report earning income through an online gig platform. Gig work has become commonplace in food delivery and transportation. As the FTC notes, gig work is expanding into healthcare, retail, and other sectors of the economy.

Three primary concerns for gig workers

The FTC’s Statement outlines three key concerns the FTC plans to address via the full weight of its legal and regulatory authority.

1. “Control without responsibility” – Most gig companies categorize gig workers as independent contractors instead of employees. “Yet in practice,” the FTC explains, “gig companies may tightly prescribe and control their workers’ tasks in ways that run counter to the promise of independence and an alternative to traditional jobs.” The FTC states that improperly classifying workers as independent contractors (instead of employees):

  • Deprives workers of essential rights, like overtime pay, health and safety protections, and the right to organize;
  • Burdens workers with undue risks such as unclear and unstable pay and requires they use their personal equipment (car, cell phone, etc.); and
  • Forces workers to cover business expenses commonly paid for by employers (insurance, gas, maintenance, etc.).

2. “Diminished bargaining power” – Gig workers are not given information about when work will be available, where they will have to perform it, or how they will be evaluated. Because of their lack of bargaining power and decentralized work environment, the FTC believes workers have little leverage to demand transparency from gig companies. Due to what the FTC characterizes as a “power imbalance”:

  • “[A]lgorithms may dictate core aspects of workers’ relationship with a” company’s platform, “leaving them with an invisible inscrutable boss.”
  • Workers are often forced to sign take-it-or-leave-it agreements with liquidated damages clauses, arbitration clauses, and class-action waivers.

3. “Concentrated markets” – Markets populated by gig companies are often concentrated among just a handful of businesses, resulting in reduced choice for workers, customers, and businesses. The FTC believes the resulting loss in competition may incentivize gig companies to suppress wages below competitive rates, reduce job quality, and impose onerous terms and conditions on gig workers.

Continue Reading FTC set to begin policing companies for alleged gig worker abuse

Consistent with its pro-union agenda, the National Labor Relations Board recently reversed precedent established under the prior administration with respect to employer dress codes and the joint employer standard. Specifically, on August 29, 2022, the Board held that an employer’s dress code policies preventing employees from wearing pro-union apparel were unlawful. Furthering its agenda, on September 6, 2022, the Board released a new proposed joint employer standard, which would roll back the current standard established under the prior administration, making it much easier for companies to be deemed joint employers.

Continue Reading NLRB reverses precedent on employer dress codes and joint employer standard

On August 16, 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that gender dysphoria could qualify as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). (Williams v. Kincaid, No. 21-2030 (4th Cir. Aug. 16, 2022)) According to the World Professional Association for Transgender Health Standards of Care, gender dysphoria

In light of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on June 24, 2022, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which holds that access to abortion is not a constitutional right, employers are faced with myriad challenges moving forward. Our Labor and Employment lawyers, working with Reed Smith’s Reproductive Health Working Group, address some of

The highest court in the land has, at long last, weighed in on the permissibility of the federal government’s November 2021 vaccine-or-test rule for large employers. Specifically, on January 13, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), which had required that private employers with 100 or more U.S. employees adopt either (1) a mandatory vaccination policy or (2) a policy that allows employees to choose between vaccination and submission of weekly COVID tests (as we previously discussed here).

As a result, employers previously covered by the ETS will not have to comply – at least for now – with its requirements. Below we will discuss the Court’s ruling and, equally if not more importantly, what this means for U.S. employers.

Continue Reading Supreme Court blocks federal vaxx-or-test rule for large employers

OSHA issued its Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) in early November. A series of challenges quickly ensued, resulting in a stay of the ETS and a consolidation of the cases before the Sixth Circuit. On December 17, 2021, the Sixth Circuit lifted the stay. OSHA has indicated that it will delay enforcement of the ETS deadlines

On December 17, 2021, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals dissolved the stay previously placed on OSHA’s so-called “vaccinate or test” Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS). Consequently, covered employers with 100 or more employees will now be required to comply with the ETS under the newly announced deadlines of January 10, 2022 for all non-testing requirements

As noted in our prior post regarding the Sixth Circuit handling the challenges to the OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard (the ETS), several of the parties targeting the OSHA ETS filed or joined various petitions requesting an initial hearing en banc. On December 15, 2021, the Sixth Circuit denied the various petitions for initial hearing en banc because there was not majority support of the active judges. It appears that it was a very close call – of the 16 active judges, eight were for en banc and eight were against it. As a result, the case will proceed before the typical three-judge panel. The three judges have been assigned; however, we do not know who they are at this point.

Judge Moore issued a concurring opinion recognizing the inefficiencies that go along with an en banc hearing. The concurrence noted that the case “require[s] focused consideration by a devoted panel,” and that an en banc hearing “would have strained the resources of the sixteen active judges.”

There are two dissenting opinions. Chief Judge Sutton’s dissent recognizes that, with respect to the initial hearing en banc, “[t]his is an extraordinary case, suitable for an extraordinary procedure.” But he also notes that the Sixth Circuit “likely will not be the final decisionmakers in this case, given the prospect of review by the U.S. Supreme Court.”   
Continue Reading OSHA ETS: Sixth Circuit denies initial hearing en banc

On November 16, 2021, the Sixth Circuit was selected via a lottery to hear the consolidated challenges made against the recent OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard (the ETS). As background, on November 5, 2021, OSHA published the ETS that would require most private employers with 100 or more employees to establish either (1) a mandatory vaccination policy requiring that all covered employees be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or (2) a vaccination policy that requires that employees choose between being fully vaccinated or submitting to regular and recurring COVID-19 testing.

While all eyes had previously been on the Fifth Circuit, it is now the Sixth Circuit that’s in the spotlight. Not surprisingly, there has been a flurry of activity in the case. There are currently two main issues pending before the court that will certainly shape the dispute: (1) several petitioners have asked for an initial hearing en banc (i.e., requesting that the full court – and not just a three-judge panel – decide the case initially); and (2) the government has asked the court to dissolve the Fifth Circuit’s stay.
Continue Reading OSHA COVID-19 rule: Sixth Circuit case status update

Reed Smith’s Labor & Employment group is proud to announce the launch of our video chat series, Employment Law Watch: Real Time. The series will focus on new developments and hot topics that employers around the world need to know about. Tune in for regular 10 to 15 minute chats led by the firm’s labor