Uber Drivers: Employees or Not?

It has been a long war between drivers and the app based company Uber. Here and there, one side or the other gets a victory but more and more battling continues to make the fight confusing and convoluted. Turns out, in a very quiet judgement, the drivers may have had a victory. Like always, however, Uber isn’t going down without a fight.

Barbara Berwick, a former driver for Uber, filed a complaint with the California Labor Commission for unreimbursed business expenses, among other allegations. On June 3rd, the Labor Commission officer surmised that Berwick was treated like an employee as per California law, and she had been misclassified as an independent contractor, therefore was entitled to the $4,152.20 reimbursement.

In the Labor Commission case, the officer pointed out various points to assert drivers are employees. Upon applying for the company, drivers are subject to background checks and must register their cars. Cars cannot be over 10 years old, and if a driver’s client rating falls below 4.6 stars, they can be terminated from the company. Drivers cannot accept tips because it interferes with Uber’s marketing strategy (easy, streamlined, transportation). The Commissioner further qualified that the plaintiff did not exercise any managerial skills that “could affect a profit or loss” (i.e. they could not negotiate cancellation fees, only Uber could do that). Other than her vehicle and her time, Berwick had no other investment into the company.

Uber responded that it was a “neutral technological platform” that connected drivers with riders. The drivers chose their own hours and relative locations to work. However, their arguments fell flat with the Labor Commissioner. The company filed a notice of appeal, which turned the quiet judgement into another war cry.

This administrative judgement comes on the heels of a federal court decision (‘O Conner v. Uber Techs Inc.) that denied Uber’s motion for summary judgement, an attempt to claim that all issues were resolved or were unresolvable because they are so one sided. This case is also deciding whether an Uber driver is an employee or independent contractor.

Source: NY Times