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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.

After reviewing the 2,203 pieces of proposed legislation introduced in the California legislature by the February 21 deadline, it’s obvious that one issue will dominate debate in the 2020 session: the continued fallout from AB 5, the 2019 bill that codified and expanded the ABC test for determining independent contractor status. In fact, 34 separate pieces of proposed legislation that seek to modify or repeal AB 5, create new exemptions, or otherwise address the misclassification questions raised by the new law were introduced before the recent bill deadline. Let’s take a look at some of the key issues and the more prominent pieces of legislation.

Gig economy company Instacart lost the latest round of its misclassification battle in San Diego yesterday, as a California state court judge granted a preliminary injunction forcing it to reclassify its independent contractor workers as employees. But the judge took some of the sting out of the ruling by putting on hold any enforcement efforts by the city, allowing this “lively area of the law” to work itself out a bit more before dropping the hammer on the company. The February 24 ruling is the latest example of the ABC Test in action, demonstrating just how disastrous it could be to the traditional gig economy model and just how far it can be taken by aggressive government officials.

A federal court judge today denied a request by several gig economy giants (and a few contractors) to block AB-5, the new misclassification law in California that codifies the ABC test and makes it much more difficult to classify workers as independent contractors. That means that gig economy companies across the state have no immediate avenues to escape the grasp of the ABC test, which became state law on January 1. If you were waiting to determine whether to make any adjustments to your business model in the hopes that the law wouldn’t apply to your business, the time is now to give your attention to compliance solutions. While you can still hold out hope that there will be a legislative fix, or an eventual court ruling in businesses’ favor, or an election-day ballot measure that would solve many problems, these potential solutions have uncertain futures and are not on the immediate horizon – so you shouldn’t hold your breath.

The federal court that had granted a temporary restraining order on New Year’s Eve blocking California’s misclassification law from taking effect against the trucking industry just extended that ruling by granting a preliminary injunction which will block AB-5 as to truckers for the foreseeable future. It’s a big win for the trucking industry in the state, and it keeps alive the hope that the ABC test will never be applied for those California businesses – and truck drivers – in the motor carrier field. But of course, we continue to wait for the other shoe to drop: will a court also block AB-5 when it comes to gig economy companies?

Yesterday saw a state court conclude that California’s controversial new misclassification law doesn’t apply to truck drivers, the second time in the last few weeks that a judge has come down hard on AB-5 for going too far in limiting the kinds of workers who can be classified as independent contractors. While any decision limiting the reach of AB-5 should be welcomed by the business community, we’re still on pins and needles waiting to see if a court will take a big step and block the law altogether, or at least even as it applies to typical gig economy workers.

As readers of this blog know, three separate groups have filed lawsuits seeking to block or overturn California’s AB-5, the new law that raises the bar to make it very difficult for businesses to classify workers as independent contractors: truck drivers, freelancers, and gig economy companies. Although the truck drivers were successful in winning a temporary reprieve from the law, the freelancers’ group just received bad news that could also spell trouble for gig economy companies. A federal court denied their request for a temporary restraining order that would have blocked the law from taking effect against them, and given the similarities between their arguments and the arguments presented by gig economy businesses, we may have just received a sneak preview into how the court will rule on the case we care about the most.

A federal judge took a pause from his New Year’s Eve revelries to hand a big victory to California truckers, blocking the state’s new misclassification law from impacting them before the January 1 effective date arrived. While this maneuver doesn’t directly help gig economy companies in the state – who became subject to AB-5’s ABC test immediately upon the stroke of midnight – it could be a sign of good things to come.

The truck drivers were the first group to take aim at AB5 through a lawsuit, and the freelancers followed suit. Soon before the clock strikes midnight to ring in the new year, two giants of the gig economy fired their own shot. Uber and Postmates filed a federal lawsuit on December 30, hoping to overturn the controversial new law that will raise the bar to make it very difficult for the average gig economy company to classify their workers as independent contractors. 

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