Application technology has created a subset of employees who are “summoned” to their job through a smartphone app. Amongst this class of employees are Uber drivers, Handy cleaning and handyman service workers, and CrowdFlower job service workers. All of these workers are currently classified as independent contracts, meaning they are not covered by minimum-wage laws and other employee-afforded protections. In a series of lawsuits, these workers are claiming that they should be classified as employees, but some experts argue a new legal class of workers should be created.
Both Handy and CrowdFlower are being faced with lawsuits in which workers claim they should be classified as employees, rather than independent contractors, because employers exercise so much control over the details of their work. In the CrowdFlower suit, workers claim they are employees because of the company’s detailed instructions on how to perform the work and its algorithms monitoring work product. In the Handy suit, workers argue they are employees because the company has strict guidelines governing how workers knock on customers’ doors and use their bathrooms.
Some legal scholars are suggesting that these workers do not fit in the category of employee or independent contractor. By the very nature of their work, individuals seeking work through apps often have no choice but to accept the platform’s terms electronically, otherwise they cannot access assignments. Because of the lack of bargaining power these workers have, legal experts are suggesting the creation of a third category: “dependent contractor.” This category would apply to workers who are economically dependent on the employer, take on project-based work, and have little power to choose which work assignments to take.
Should this alternative worker classification category come to fruition, these dependent contractors would benefit from the flexibilities of independent contractor classification, but have some degree of wage protections. Although dependent contractors would not enjoy the full-fledged protections afforded employees, they could potentially be entitled to minimum wage and even unionization rights.