Individuals working in the gig economy have inadequate protection against workplace injuries. As the economy evolves, many see a need to change a system that is leaving many workers without adequate coverage. While the emerging economy has made it easier for workers to pursue new careers and opportunities, it has done so at the cost of workplace safety and workplace protections put in place over the past century.
Classification and Misclassification
Many gig workers are classified as independent contractors. This means they do not have rights to many of the benefits enjoyed by regular employees. Instead, the law considers them sole-proprietors. When an accident occurs, they have often left to foot the bill.
Whether or not an individual is an independent contractor or employee depends on many factors. Some of these include the level of supervision, whether the individual has the right to work for another company simultaneously, and scheduling oversight.
It is very common for independent contractors to be misclassified. This has resulted in numerous lawsuits and stiff penalties for companies that attempt to shirk their legal liability by deliberately misclassifying workers. Even so, that hasn’t stopped many employers from continuing to game the system as the economy evolves and an increasing number of formerly in-house tasks are outsourced to independent contractors.
Just under 33% of the US workforce is considered part of the gig economy. Even though these individuals are considered contract workers, employers are still responsible for maintaining workplace safety.
This means ensuring all workers receive proper training and protective equipment, and that all complaints about workplace safety are properly handled. In this regard, OSHA’s directions are very clear and are spelled out in the General Duty Clause.
Protecting Workers in the New Economy
There are numerous holes in existing laws that employers use to shun their duties to contract workers. While legislators, attorneys, and judges debate these shortcomings, workers are paying a hefty price for inaction.
When gig workers are classified as employees and they are injured on the job, they can recover damages by filing a workers’ compensation claim. For those who are classified as independent contractors, however, a number of legal options may still exist. They may be able to recover by:
- filing a personal injury lawsuit against the company
- filing a claim against a third party
- proving employee misclassification