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Classifying the Gig Economy Worker

by Peggy Emch
Woman with thought bubble that says gig ecomony

The gig economy has sparked a lot of discussion surrounding employee rights. While there are no steadfast rules yet on the subject of gig contractors vs gig employees, the topic is maturing as this new employment landscape continues to develop.

In California recently, a federal judge ruled that Grubhub delivery drivers are indeed independent contractors. However, the case is far from closed. Not only does the plantiff’s lawyer plan to appeal the ruling but the California Supreme court is working on drafting a test for these workers. This should help settle the issue overall.

What Is a Gig Worker

Technology has brought us a new kind of worker. The gig economy spun out of mobile apps and their ability to connect workers with jobs. A gig worker is someone who uses an app to find work. That work is performed at his or her leisure and with his or her own equipment. Gig workers are free to make their own schedules and work as much or as little as they like. The gig worker doesn’t have to do any work to find clients and jobs and has the freedom to only do the job at his or her convenience. Flexibility is the key with this type of employment and there is usually a trade off with pay. The pay is not as good.

Many people argue that employee rights are eroding under the gig economy. While that appears to be true when viewed through the lens of the traditional work model, it might just be that a new kind of classification is developing. Obviously, the gig is a very different type of work and it’s ruffling the feathers of traditional employee rights advocates. The questions and criticisms are healthy, though, and one day the line between independent contractor and employee for gig workers will be clear.

Gig Worker Benefits

Go out and talk to some Uber drivers about how they feel about their work and you might find the subject a little more complex than meets the eye. Many are definitely disenfranchised with their situation but many are enamored of it.

For example, with platform employment, workers have the freedom to work whenever they want. This kind of freedom has never been seen before. If a worker needs cash for groceries, say, she can hop in her car, turn on the app, and give rides until she makes enough money to go shopping. Then she can turn off the app and leave work for the day or for the hour. This kind of flexibility is unprecedented. For many workers, it supplements their main income and offers opportunities they didn’t have before. When they’re sitting around after or before their main job, they can choose to do something constructive with their time and make some money.

The Erosion of Employee Rights

The problem is that workers tend to do this work for a pretty low wage. Additionally, they don’t have the same kind of protections that regular employees have. If workers did gig jobs part time, as a means to make some extra cash, the lack of protections and low pay might be fine. Extra cash is the benefit here.

But when people use Uber as their sole source of income, and they’re working full time in their own vehicles and not interested in the benefit of flexibility, it starts to look like a bad, low wage job.

Workers should consider the way they choose to engage with platform jobs in our gig economy so that they can get the most out of their time and careers. As an independent contractor, the gig might not be a great option for full time work.

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