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.
Of all the public policy debates surrounding the gig economy of late, one of the hottest topics 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, or “gig to gig.” This push just got a major jumpstart that may turn out to be a game-changer.
There are obvious “benefits” to participating in the gig economy: Gig companies get to use as little or as much labor as they need. Gig workers are able to work at their chosen capacity. And customers get new products and services. But there are other “benefits” that are receiving more attention of late: “employee benefits.”
Should the legislative branch of the federal government focus its efforts on regulating the gig economy at the present time, or should they stick to bigger picture topics to occupy their time (such as healthcare or updating the federal tax code)? Should Congress step in and develop a system to provide employee benefits to gig workers? And the million dollar question: should our federal representatives take a stab at revising the independent contractor misclassification test to account for the changes in modern society brought about by the advent of gig work? Due to the growth and sheer breadth of the gig economy, these are but a few of the issues that need to be resolved.
Bloomberg BNA reporter Madison Alder has written an eye-opening article that suggests the possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) could force many gig economy workers to abandon their freelance lifestyle and secure full-time work. Gig companies everywhere should read the piece and start planning for how this possible legislative action could impact their organizations.
Late last week, NPR aired a story discussing the governmental efforts to bring portable benefits to gig workers. You can read a transcript of the story or listen to it by clicking here. I was fortunate enough to have been interviewed by Yuki Noguchi for the story, discussing one of the biggest reasons most companies do not offer benefits to their workers benefits: “They don't want to have them categorized as ‘employees.’ Under the law, employees have more rights than independent contractors — for benefits, to unionize, and other worker protections.
Several weeks ago, we asked if the concept of portable benefits for gig economy workers was one step closer to reality, with rumors swirling of imminent federal legislation forthcoming. Well, this issue just took a big leap forward with the introduction of legislation by Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia).
Today’s employment “Game of Life” looks very different than it used to. One of the biggest reasons: the gig economy is expanding at a rapid pace. Other factors include the fact that there are four generations competing for work and working together, while certain demographics, such as the number of single women in the workforce, are on the rise. Meanwhile, employees’ definitions of family and work/life balance are changing. Add all of these together and you have the perfect platform for the exploding sharing economy. Working in the gig “game” appeals to those interested in an alternative, more flexible, more relaxed lifestyle. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, gig workers like being in control, having flexibility, enjoy variety, and enjoy choosing work that they are passionate about. As a result of the growth of this area, employees’ workplace expectations are changing. So, too, should employers’ practices for utilizing and integrating such workers into their business model.