New York City residents love Uber. But Uber, the popular ride-sharing company, finds itself once again on the wrong side of a lawsuit. A former Uber driver named Joshua Fisher filed a class action lawsuit in Washington State District Court that was recently transferred to Federal Court. The complaint alleges that Fisher was wrongfully classified as an independent contractor during his time as a driver for Uber. It is Fisher’s contention that Uber drivers across the country are actually employees and should be classified as such.
Because of this misclassification, he claims that he has not received any of the compensation and employee benefits to which he is entitled. Although Fisher is currently the only named Plaintiff in the action, the lawsuit asks for over 40 million dollars on behalf of the more than 15k drivers who have worked for Uber in the state of Washington since the company launched its service in 2011.
Uber’s position, in this case, and in a similar class action they are defending in California, is that the drivers are not full-blown employees. They are, therefore, not entitled to the traditional benefits for which they are asking. The company maintains that the drivers are properly classified as independent contractors for various reasons. For example, they set their own hours and use their own equipment for work.
Fisher’s lawsuit specifically alleges that Uber treats its drivers as employees but does not classify them as such in order to avoid the costs and responsibilities of doing so. He claims that Uber exerts “significant control over its drivers” and this means they should be categorized as employees. For example, the complaint states that all new drivers much watch a training video that teaches them how to interact with Uber customers.
The complaint also alleges that Uber unilaterally sets fares and that it reserves the right to “deactivate” a driver’s ability to use the Uber app to pick up riders if their customer rating falls below a certain point. This, Fisher alleges, resembles “at-will” employment which is one of the traditional hallmarks of the employer-employee relationship.
If the drivers are re-classified as employees, Uber may potentially be required to pay for work related expenses like gas, tolls, and insurance. It is reimbursement for these types of expenses that Fisher seeks. In the long run, Uber may find itself having to pay overtime and minimum wages, and keep more detailed records.
Uber responded to the lawsuit with the following statement:
“Driver-partners are independent contractors who use Uber on their own terms: they control their use of the app. Nearly 90 percent of drivers say the main reason they use Uber is because they love being their own boss. As employees, drivers would have set shifts, earn a fixed hourly wage, and lose the ability to drive with ridesharing apps – as well as the personal flexibility they most value.”
The outcome of Fisher’s case and the California class action will have a tremendous impact on Uber and its drivers. The decision will likely also impact other “sharing economy” businesses and their employees all over the country including New York City. Reclassification cases are not new, but the business models of some burgeoning companies are, and may change how we look at the traditional employer-employee relationship.
If you have questions about the classification of your job, workplace behavior, or think your employer may owe you compensation, please contact New York City wage hour lawyers at Leeds Brown Law. Our attorneys have years of experience successfully fighting for the rights of employees. Let our experience work for you.