Uber: Employees or Independent Contractors?


A U.S. District court judge does not seem fully convinced that Uber drivers are independent subcontractors and not employees, and may send the case to a jury to find out.

In a San Francisco, CA. district court summary judgment hearing, district judge Edward Chen heard the arguments of Uber Technologies, Inc. that the drivers’ claims should be dismissed because they are not employees, but are customers of Uber’s software platform, much like the passengers who “receive a service from Defendant,” according to Uber’s motion for summary judgment.

Judge Chen said that in order for him to grant Uber summary judgment, he’d have to “find that no reasonable jury could conclude that Uber drivers aren’t employees, and that’s a pretty tough standard”.

Uber drivers brought suit claiming that they, and others similarly situated, are employees of Uber who are mis-classified as independent contractors. The independent contractor designation requires them to cover their employment expenses “including expense for their vehicles [and] gas,” according to their complaint. The drivers also claim they are employees because of their full integration into Uber’s business, without which Uber would not exist.  They are also required to follow “a litany of detailed requirements imposed on them by Uber,” which they are then graded on and subject to termination if they do not meet the requirements, according to the complaint.

Uber likened itself more to a “lead-generator” than an employer at the hearing. However, Judge Chen seems to think “drivers are serving Uber” and that Uber does more than sell an app, and actually has some control over the work of the drivers including screening them, setting rates, and terminating drivers.

The plaintiff’s attorney noted that the ability to terminate at will is a key factor in these cases, and Uber’s contract allows them to terminate drivers.

The definition of who is an employee and who is not will continue to become more blurred as more people conduct business in newer ways, particularly with the evolution of cyberspace and technology. No longer do most people go to the office or the factory for set hours each day. More work from home and “telecommute”. As this continues, the issue of control by an employer will continue to define who is an employee, and who is an independent contractor.

Thank you,

Michael K. Gillis, Esq.


1150 Walnut Street

Newton, MA 02461

Phone: 617-244-4300

Fax: 617-964-0862

E-mail: mgillis@gillisandbikofsky.com





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