Just a few hours before they were subject to a court order forcing them to transform all of their drivers from independent contractors to employees, a California appeals court spared the nation’s two largest rideshare companies from having to immediately overhaul their fundamental business models. The court blocked a San Francisco judge’s order from taking effect while it heard the companies’ appeal, handing the gig economy giants a much-needed reprieve. But it comes at a cost – the appeal was fast-tracked and will be played out at groundbreaking speed, meaning that we will be closer to a final answer to this momentous question sooner rather than later.
Last week’s successful effort by California’s Attorney General to obtain an injunction forcing two ride-sharing giants to reclassify their drivers as employees may be the beginning of a trend that threatens to create a new normal for gig economy companies. Days later, the local district attorney in San Francisco filed a similar request in court seeking to force DoorDash’s independent contractors to be classified as employees. What does this August 12 move signal? Essentially, if you operate in a jurisdiction like California that has adopted the ABC test for determining worker status, you could be the next target of a government-initiated lawsuit that would aim to upend the very business model you have created.
A California state court judge just handed a potentially groundbreaking loss to gig economy companies across the state by granting an injunction forcing the two biggest ride-sharing drivers in the nation to classify their drivers as employees. A silver lining in the August 10 decision by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman allows the companies 10 days before the injunction takes effect, permitting them time to appeal the ruling and perhaps to convince a higher court to put the decision on ice pending the appeal. Here are the five takeaways you need to know about today’s critical ruling.
In a budget deal finalized today and expected to be approved by state lawmakers in a matter of days, the California state legislature has reached an agreement that will see $17.5 million allocated toward enforcement of AB-5 in the 2020-2021 budget year. Unless the state law is radically revamped by voters through a November ballot measure, gig economy businesses can expect to be under the regulatory microscope by state enforcement officials for the foreseeable future. What can gig economy businesses expect given this development?
San Francisco ratcheted up the pressure on California gig economy companies by not only filing a misclassification lawsuit against DoorDash, but promising that more such litigation was to come against other companies. Upon filing the June 16 unfair business practices lawsuit – which appears to be the first instance where a California District Attorney has taken such an action – the San Francisco District Attorney said, “I assure you that this is just the first step among many steps that our office will take…” What do gig economy companies need to know about this latest troubling development?
I was able to virtually attend a session of Albany Law School’s 2020 Warren M. Anderson Legislative Seminar Series last week on “The Gig Economy,” bringing together some of the nation’s foremost thought leaders on the subject for a lively and informative panel. A recording of the May 28 hour-long session can be found here and is available for free. (Many thanks to Albany Law School for the invitation and for allowing us to share the link here.) I teamed up with Richard Rifkin, Legal Director, Government Law Center – who hosted the event – to develop this summary.
A federal court judge in Massachusetts just rejected Lyft’s attempt to escape the reach of Prong B of the ABC Test, indicating it was “likely” that its rideshare drivers are employees and not independent contractors. The news wasn’t great for Lyft, but more importantly, the May 22 decision doesn’t portend well for gig economy companies trying to fit their traditional business model into the strict confines of the ABC Test. For those operating in states where misclassification conflicts are resolved using the test – we’re looking at you, California – this development isn’t the best news, and is definitely worth tracking.
Not so long ago – 2019, to be exact – in a state not so far, far away – California – lawmakers passed the nation’s most controversial misclassification law to sweep as many independent contractors into employee status as possible. By now, most businesses recognize that AB-5 is the dreaded state statute that codified the “ABC test” across California and not the name of a new protocol droid. And most companies that have independent contractors in the state, especially gig economy companies, are quite familiar with how far-reaching the statute is. But is it so sweeping in nature that it would snare the Mandalorian, one of the Star Wars universe’s newest heroes, in its grasp? This May 4th, we’ll explore this question together.
Following a proposed and failed bill in the New York State legislature during Summer 2019 that would have created a new category of “Dependent Worker,” and California’s passage of AB-5, which codified the ABC “employment” test into law, all signs pointed to 2020 being the year that New York instituted a sea change to the definition of independent contractor.
Over a million Californians have said they want a chance to vote on the misclassification law that threatens to upend the gig economy as we know it – and that means that their wish will soon be granted. Thanks to a signature-collecting effort that has already far surpassed the necessary 623,000 signatures needed to place a measure on the ballot, voters in California will have the opportunity to pass a law this November that will exempt certain gig economy workers from the reach of the ABC test and instead ensure they are classified as independent contractors. The ballot measure, known as the “Protect App-Based Drivers & Services Act,” would see typical app-based drivers established as contractors regardless of AB 5 or the findings of state regulators if voters agree. Gig economy companies in California – and their workers – are now one step closer to regaining the independence and freedom that separated them from the business-as-usual world to begin with.