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.
The gig economy has created a seismic shift to the traditional workplace model. With new (and oftentimes inexperienced) workers performing dangerous tasks in a “faster is better” manner, workplace safety has the potential to fall through the cracks. While the Occupational Safety and Health Act does not currently provide protection to most individuals working in the gig economy – the OSH Act covers employers/employees, not independent contractors – many employee advocacy groups are calling for more safety protections.
Last month, 19-year-old Antawani Wright-Davis, who worked as a bicyclist delivering food for an app-based food delivery service, was struck and killed by a dump truck while working in Boston. Because of Wright-Davis’ status as an independent contractor, his estate was not eligible for any kind of workers’ compensation benefits. Unable to pay for his funeral, his family started a GoFundMe page to help with expenses.
Gig economy companies in Texas were on the receiving end of two pieces of good news in the last several weeks. Most recently, the state legislature passed and the governor signed into law a bill that will all but assure ride-sharing companies that their workers will be classified as independent contractors and not subject to costly misclassification cases. As my Dallas partner Art Lambert wrote in a legal alert from earlier this week, H.B. 100 ensures that any driver working for a transportation network company (TNC), defined as any entity using a digital network to connect a rider to a driver to provide prearranged rides, is properly classified as an independent contractor as long as long as four simple requirements are met.
Long hours and late nights detrimentally impact one’s ability to drive safely. The longer a driver has been awake, or the greater the number of hours he or she has worked, the more likely an accident may occur. Some professional drivers, including operators of commercial tractor-trailers governed by the U.S. Department of Transportation, have traditionally been subject to hour restrictions. These regulations prohibit drivers from working more than a certain number of hours without proper rest.
A recent rash of attacks on Uber and Lyft drivers raises questions regarding the safety of these gig economy workers. Drivers must often work under dangerous circumstances, including chauffeuring complete strangers, many of whom are intoxicated and thus need a designated driver, to unfamiliar destinations at all times of the day and night.