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Do CA’s “old” laws protect workers injured in “new” gig economy?

Posted on June 29, 2017 in Workers' Compensation

Even though California already has some of the most comprehensive worker protection laws, there is definitely room for improvement — particularly when it comes to workers’ compensation benefits (or lack thereof) for those injured while working in the new “gig” economy.

What exactly is the “gig” economy you may ask? While there isn’t an exact, universally-accepted definition, many consider a “gig” to be a single job or task for which a worker is hired, often through an app or the digital marketplace. Some of the most common examples of gig workers include drivers for Uber and Lyft.

The disadvantage of being a gig worker: no workers’ comp

While working as an Uber or Lyft driver can put some extra money in your pockets, the sad reality is that these gig workers are typically classified as independent contractors instead of actual employees — meaning drivers cannot seek workers’ comp benefits in California if they are injured on the job.

Over the years, this “independent contractor vs. employee” distinction has been the subject of several legal challenges in California. However, despite these challenges, little has changed, and these drivers still aren’t able to collect workers’ comp.

California is lagging behind

While Uber and Lyft drivers are generally not entitled to many benefits under the law, that may soon change in some parts of the U.S. In fact, not only is U.S. Senator Mark Warner pushing potential legislation that will provide some benefits to gig employees, but lawmakers in several states — including New York, New Jersey and Washington — have already explored similar benefits, according to a Bloomberg report.

Sadly, despite these efforts, ride-sharing drivers in California are making little headway in their fight for fairer treatment and better legal protections. Indeed, California’s Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) hasn’t even offered a workers’ comp proposal for Uber and Lyft drivers.

The message this sends to gig workers is clear: If workers are injured in the “new” economy, they aren’t protected by the “old” laws — and this needs to change.