As I wrote previously, it is no secret that labor laws have been unable to keep pace with the changing economy, despite challenges from the bench to address the needs of the gig economy. Certain state legislatures (e.g. Washington) have taken steps to address needs of gig workers, with their ‘Paid Family and Medical Leave’ program expanded to include self-employed workers. And efforts to make portable benefits available to the gig workforce are ongoing, mostly at the state level. However, federal legislative and regulatory entities are seemingly mulling their options and allowing the change to occur from the bottom. Voices from the gig upper strata are becoming impatient, and want immediate legislative change, at the top.
Stock options, in large part, make some of the biggest public tech companies tick; a means of attracting top talent with the promise of big payouts down the road. In recent years, the gig economy has dominated the landscape in Silicon Valley and those lucky enough to land a job there have seen their personal fortunes grow overnight. Independent contractors, on the other hand – the pillars of the gig economy – have largely been left on the sidelines. That may soon change.
One of the drawbacks of entering the gig economy as a worker is that gig businesses are somewhat hamstrung by current law from providing a raft of benefits usually associated with full-time employment. That’s because companies that provide such benefits could run themselves into a problem by casting themselves close to the “employer” side of the misclassification debate. It’s a concern we have frequently written about, most recently just last month when Uber announced vague plans to begin offering benefits to its drivers. Now Lyft has joined the fray in a creative manner.
During Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit earlier this week, Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi dropped a bombshell: the company wants to soon provide benefits to its drivers in an effort to close the gap between what is received by its contractor fleet and its employee workforce. If this comes to fruition, it could revolutionize the way that gig workers are compensated, could lead to even more people jumping into the gig worker pool—and could spark a renewed misclassification battle over contractor status.
We can safely say that one of the biggest supporters of the gig economy is Virginia Senator Mark Warner (D). Back in 2016, he advocated for the Labor Department to update its statistics to help us get better insight into the size of the gig economy. In 2017, he crafted a concept and introduced a bill to assist local governments with funding and development of portable benefits for gig workers, then followed that up with a proposal designed to tackle tax issues that arise for gig workers. He’s at it again.
It’s a small step, but at least it’s progress. Federal regulators made it easier this week for gig workers to obtain health insurance on a more cost-effective basis, which should help to shore up the ranks of gig workers and make freelance work a more attractive option for a larger pool of talent.
Worker misclassification is one of the biggest issues facing businesses in the gig space and elsewhere. As the demand for gig workers increases, businesses are thinking of creative ways to hire and retain great talent. Independent contractors are increasingly becoming savvier, too, and are using their collective power to push employers for benefits traditionally reserved for W2 employees. So, what is a business to do? Well, one company is offering traditional benefits to untraditional gig workers.
As an increasing number of workers continue to join the gig economy, it is increasingly imperative for lawmakers and regulators to create a new retirement system that allows for freelancers and individuals working for multiple businesses to easily save for retirement. Although the American workforce is changing, the traditional retirement system does not yet present an option for the changing workforce. Gig workers are currently not entitled to enjoy a traditional employer-based retirement plan because such plan are only permitted to cover employees and not independent contractors.
As we have previously discussed, one of the hottest gig economy issues to dominate political and public policy debate has been “portable” benefits – the concept that gig economy workers should have flexible, portable benefits that they can take with them from job to job. States and local governments are increasingly moving forward on their own with proposals to explore the provision of benefits to individual performing work in the gig economy. Most notable are proposals that have been set forth in the state legislatures in Washington, New York and New Jersey. The movement also got a boost in January when Uber and SEIU announced a joint call for the state of Washington to develop a portable benefits system that would cover gig economy workers.
Offering health, retirement, and workers’ compensation benefits to the varied gig workforce, while maintaining some affordability to the worker while also avoiding the 30 percent cost increase to businesses, has proven to be an extremely tall task. The situation gets even more complicated because gig businesses also need to be concerned that charges of worker misclassification could be supported by the offering of such benefits to their contractor workforce.