by Ryan Rozsnaki
The California Labor Commission, causing a bit of confusion among those keeping tabs on the on-demand service space, handed down a controversial ruling earlier today. The commission ruled that Barbara Berwick, a former Uber driver, was an employee of the company and not an independent contractor as the company claimed. They also ordered Uber to reimburse her a little more than $4,000 in operating expenses. Berwick was an Uber driver for eight weeks in 2014.
Uber is appealing the Commission’s decision and promises to fight for their stance on the issue. Should the appeal fail and the decision stand, it will certainly be a victory for Berwick and others seeking more from their employers. What’s less clear is how much of a legal setback it might be for Uber and its efforts to classify the drivers that work for them as independent contractors.
Not A Surprise
A similar ruling was handed down in Florida, where the Department of Economic Opportunity decided former Uber driver Darrin McGillis was an employee of the company, this ruling only applies to one driver: Berwick. It has no automatic legal implications for any other driver or drivers, even if they are currently involved in litigation regarding Uber and their employee classification.
“The Labor Commissioner’s evaluation of whether someone is an independent contractor or an employee is done case-by-case based on the facts before her,” Erika Monterroza, director of communications at the agency’s division of industrial relations, said in a statement.
So the Berwick finding isn’t exactly a total loss for Uber and the other players of other on-demand platforms being sued for worker misclassification.
“The decision itself does not bring down the Uber business model. That’s an overstatement,” said Benjamin Sachs, co-founder of the blog OnLabor and professor of labor and industry at Harvard Law School.
But given that U.S. District Judges Edward Chen and Vince Chhabria have found in earlier cases against Uber and Lyft that evidence of misclassification warranted a trial by jury, there’s a sense that Uber could soon be facing a real problem. “This decision is part of and contributes to a legal trend in which multiple courts are finding facts that point in the direction of an ultimate conclusion that Uber employs its drivers,” Sachs said. “It’s looking more and more like Uber will be held to be an employer of its drivers.”