Why California Labor Commission's Ruling on Uber Drivers is Significant for Washington State

California sues Uber for contractorsThe California Labor Commissioner’s Office ruled earlier this month that an Uber driver who filed a lawsuit against the company should be officially classified as an employee, not an independent contractor.

According to The New York Times, Barbara Ann Berwick worked as a driver for Uber for an eight-week period between July and September 2014. In that time, she earned approximately $11,000 before expenses and taxes. However, Berwick says that the expenses she incurred as a driver significantly lowered her actual net earnings.

“If you work it out, if I didn’t get compensated for expenses, I’d be working for less than minimum wage,” said Berwick.

Uber has long claimed that the company solely serves to connect drivers and passengers, and that its drivers are simply “independent contractors” rather than official employees due to the fact that the company does not have any control over its employees’ work schedules.

But on June 3, the California Labor Commissioner’s Office ruled against the company and says that Berwick should be classified as an employee of the company. The ruling also ordered Uber to reimburse Berwick a total of $4,152.20 in expenses and costs incurred as a result of her eight weeks of working for the company.

Why Does The Ruling Matter?

A few important points:

  • This lawsuit was over a labor dispute. It has no current implications on civil tort law.
  • The lawsuit has no impact on Uber drivers in Washington state as it was filed in California.
  • Uber has appealed the ruling and therefore the decision could be reversed or altered in the future.

This ruling is noteworthy as it could allow more Uber drivers to make similar claims against the company. It could also have several significant implications in the field of personal injury law.

Companies can only be held liable for a person’s conduct if the person in question is an official employee or agent acting on behalf of the company. A company is not liable for the actions of independent contractors that are hired to perform work on a contractual basis.

Since Uber currently classifies its drivers as independent contractors, the assumption is that the company itself would not be held liable for its drivers actions if, for example, a person were to be injured in a car accident with an Uber driver that was determined to be an Uber driver’s fault. But if the ruling stands and all drivers are eventually classified as official employees, that could put Uber on the hook for personal injury lawsuits involving its drivers.

But Uber has appealed. If the appeal is denied, you can expect to hear about thousands of additional lawsuits against the company.

Chris Davis
Top-rated, award-winning, attorney practicing wrongful death & serious injury law in Seattle.
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