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

This week, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) proposed a new rule that would create a uniform approach to the way companies classify workers as independent contractors or employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The notion of classifying workers as independent contractors versus employees has continued to gain importance in recent years, given the growing gig economy, which makes independent contractors central to the business models of many major companies.

The DOL’s newly proposed rule would greatly benefit companies, by making it easier to classify workers as independent contractors and thereby remove a company’s obligation to provide typical employee benefits and workplace protections, such as paid leave, overtime pay and other fringe benefits. This marks a large shift from the standard proposed under the Obama administration, which would have broadened the scope of employee status, but was ultimately nixed by the Trump administration in 2017.
Continue Reading U.S. Department of Labor proposes new “reality” for classifying independent contractors

Today more than ever, U.S. businesses supplement their workforce with independent contractors as a solution to competitive and customer pressures. The use of contractors is entirely legal. But the correct classification of workers as contractors, as opposed to employees, is a complex analysis with frameworks that differ across a variety of governing laws. Employers, therefore, sometimes get this wrong. Recognizing the likelihood that workers are sometimes misclassified as contractors, on August 29, 2019, the National Labor Relations Board (the NLRB or Board) issued an important opinion for businesses when it held that misclassification of employees as contractors is not a violation of federal labor law.

NLRB pro-business opinion

Velox Express, Inc. is in the medical courier business. It supplements its driver workforce with independent contractors. Velox terminated its contract with one such driver, Jeannie Edge, when Edge began voicing concerns on behalf of herself and other drivers that Velox had misclassified them as contractors instead of employees. Edge filed an unfair labor practice charge claiming that the driver misclassifications violated the National Labor Relations Act (the Act). The administrative law judge agreed. In Velox Express, Inc. and Jeannie Edge, the Board, which has a three-member Republican majority, affirmed the judge’s ruling that Velox misclassified Edge and other drivers as independent contractors under the Act, but held that the misclassification, in and of itself, did not violate the Act. 368 NLRB No. 61.

Section 8(a)(1) of the Act provides that it is an unfair labor practice for an employer “to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees” from exercising their legal right to engage in protected concerted activity under the Act. The Board explained that an employer’s mistaken classification of employees as independent contractors does not interfere with or threaten any workers’ right to engage in protected activity under the Act, even if independent contractors cannot join a union. Id. at 6. The Board’s rationale was that when workers are classified as independent contractors, they still retain the right to disagree with their classification and engage in protected activity, which is exactly what Edge did. The employer violates the Act only if it responds to the protected activities with threats, promises, and interrogations. Id. at 6. The Board held that “[e]rroneously communicating to workers that they are independent contractors does not, in and of itself, contain any threat of reprisal or force or promise of benefit.” Id.
Continue Reading On the eve of Labor Day, a win for business from the NLRB

The Supreme Court has delivered its ruling on the landmark Pimlico Plumbers case, upholding previous decisions that an ostensibly ‘self employed’ plumber was in fact properly classified as a ‘worker’ with valuable employment rights under UK law (including discrimination protection and holiday pay). The case has been closely monitored because of its impact on organisations

Today, the much-anticipated Taylor Review was published, with a speech by Matthew Taylor outlining his recommendations, followed by comments from Prime Minister Theresa May. The opening lines of the Review set out Taylor’s ambition: “The work of this Review is based on a single overriding ambition: All work in the UK economy should be fair and decent with realistic scope for development and fulfilment,” an aim May echoed in her own speech, calling for a balance of flexibility and protections of worker rights in the labour market.

The report comprises more than 100 pages of detailed analysis and recommendations, and will no doubt form the basis of debate over the coming weeks and months. We’ve set out here some of the key recommendations which will be of most interest to employers.

The Review deals with the ‘gig economy’ and the issue of the employment status of people who deliver services via platforms such as Deliveroo and TaskRabbit. The status of these people has been at the heart of a number of the high-profile cases recently, where companies have asserted that they are ‘self-employed,’ and individuals have argued they are ‘employees’ or ‘workers.’ However, the issue of employment status is not just confined to gig economy companies – it is relevant to any organisation that engages people on a freelance or self-employed basis.

Employment status: what’s new?

Employment law currently recognises three categories of individual, each with different rights and protection (see more detail in our blog here), broadly:

  • The self-employed, who have no employment law rights
  • Workers, who benefit from basic protections such as the minimum or living wage and paid annual leave
  • Employees, who have the greatest number of rights and protections

Continue Reading Taylor Review: a review of the Review