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There’s an old saying that out of crisis comes opportunity – and the gig economy may be on the verge of living that adage. Thanks to the two trillion-dollar Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act signed into law last week, the entire industry may be forever altered because independent contractors will temporarily be able to recover unemployment benefits. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program expands coverage under the state-by-state unemployment compensation system to individuals “not eligible for regular compensation or extended benefits under state or federal law or pandemic emergency unemployment compensation,” which includes, but is not limited to, certain gig economy workers. Who is now eligible, and what will this mean for the gig economy?

Last week we gave you a seven-step action plan for how gig economy companies can respond to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. A lot has changed in a week, so now it’s time to take a look around the industry to see how gig economy companies are actually responding to the crisis. You may consider adopting some of these same measures for your own company. 

Given that the gig economy is a relatively recent phenomenon, the industry has not yet experienced some of the trials and tribulations that more-established business models have survived. Now though, for the first time, gig economy companies are forced to weather the storm of a public health crisis that threatens to upend the daily lives of hundreds of millions of Americans. What should gig economy companies consider in the coming days, weeks, and months to deal with the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis? Here’s a seven-point plan you should review and consider adopting.

CareerSource Florida, a government agency serving the state of Florida, recently released a report highlighting the growth of the gig economy in the state and emphasizing the positive impact it has had on the state’s economy. “The Study on the Gig Economy and Florida’s Workforce System” details information about the size and impact of the gig economy on the nation’s third-largest state.

Universities have often offered courses teaching students how to navigate the workplace and manage their careers. Now, we’re starting to see some of these courses focus on teaching students how to best participate in the gig economy.

As the gig economy surges, on-demand workers are popping up in wider variety of industries. Trends indicate that the proportion of the U.S. workforce engaging in some form of gig arrangement will continue to increase, rising from the over one-third who are already participating. It is therefore no wonder that one of the largest slices of the nation’s economy – healthcare – is attracting more gig workers. In fact, this concept is not entirely new. Many healthcare employers have historically offered gig-like classifications and systems to help them retain a cadre of employed nurses and other professionals. Questions remain about the extent to which actual gig relationships can be effective in this vast industry. 

While U.S. lawmakers grapple with the dynamics of the gig economy, our neighbor to the north is witnessing a dramatic increase in the number of gig workers. A recent article in the Toronto Star discussed a new study from Statistics Canada which “found a dramatic increase in gig workers.” Specifically, the study found that the number of gig workers in Canada “jumped by 70% between 2005 and 2016, from 1 million to 1.7 million — an increase from 5.5% of all workers aged 15 and older to 8.2%.” In Toronto, one in 10 workers obtained some of their income from the gig economy in 2016 according to the study. 

The burgeoning gig economy helps companies attract talent and gain new levels of nimbleness in support of efforts to satisfy customers and gain an edge on the competition. The gig relationship is obviously attractive to many. It gives workers greater flexibility, with meaningful opportunities for those who are entrepreneurially inclined. 

We reported last year about the importance of a new retirement system for the gig economy. Typical gig workers are currently not entitled to enjoy a traditional employer-based retirement plan because the law only permits such plans to cover employees and not independent contractors. But the need for gig workers to have opportunities to save for retirement has done nothing but increase in recent years. Research shows that there are 56.7 million freelancers in the United States and Congress has yet to pass legislation creating a retirement system for them.

Gig workers in New York City recently gained a suite of workplace protections normally reserved for employees. The City Council amended its antidiscrimination laws in September to cover independent contractors, meaning that gig workers will soon have the right to pursue legal remedies against hiring entities that typically don’t have to be concerned about claims from this segment of their workforce.

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