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U.S. Labor Secretary Supports Classifying Gig Workers, Rideshare Drivers as Employees

Many workers in the “gig economy” often find themselves forgoing important work benefits in exchange for being able to earn income. According to the new U.S. Labor Secretary, however, that could change.

In an interview with Reuters, U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh expressed his support for classifying gig workers as employees rather than independent contractors:

"We are looking at it but in a lot of cases gig workers should be classified as employees... in some cases they are treated respectfully and in some cases they are not and I think it has to be consistent across the board. These companies are making profits and revenue and I'm not (going to) begrudge anyone for that because that's what we are about in America. But we also want to make sure that success trickles down to the worker."

Walsh’s support could mean big changes in how the government requires employers to classify workers.

For years, corporations the likes of Uber, Lyft, and other app-based services have battled in the courts over their classification of drivers and gig workers as “independent contractors” rather than “employees.” This classification allows corporations to skirt responsibility for paying workers important benefits like health insurance, disability, and overtime, and enables them to avoid liability for damages caused by contractors.

“It’s important if companies like Uber and Lyft take responsibility for the workers off which their profits are based,” said Levinson Axelrod Partner Michael Fusco. “Whether it be providing those workers benefits or being vicariously responsible for the safety of their drivers, it’s critical that these Silicon Valley startups be treated no differently than any other employer under the law.”

In terms of the work we do for plaintiffs at Levinson Axelrod, P.A., classifying more gig workers as employees would have important benefits for both workers and accident victims. For example:

  • Classifying gig workers as employees would entitle them to workers’ compensation in the event that they are injured on the job or contract an illness like COVID-19 due to workplace exposure. Workers’ comp provides benefits for things like medical care and disability regardless of who is at fault.
  • Classifying drivers as employees would mean that companies like Uber and Lyft could be held liable for damages caused by their workers, allowing victims of rideshare accidents to recover under larger commercial insurance policies rather than the personal auto liability policies of an individual driver, which may be insufficient in covering all damages.

At a time when the power wielded by corporations is being increasingly scrutinized, support for hard-working men and women by top officials like Secretary Walsh, who is a former Union member himself, is reassuring.

At Levinson Axelrod, our award-winning attorneys have long supported efforts to classify gig workers as employees and to adapt our laws to reflect the realities of how people work today. We continue to track these developments in order to provide the best quality representation to our clients in matters related to workers’ compensation and personal injury.

If you have questions about a workers’ comp case or an accident involving a rideshare driver, call or contact us online. We offer FREE consultations and serve clients across New Jersey.

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