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Musing on Uber and Other “Sharing Economy” Enterprises

In response to an android malfunction during a recent trip to D.C. I acquired my first I-phone from Jasmine, a young saleswoman who was also, in her spare time, an Uber driver.  Based on Jasmine’s comments and also from perspective as p[aren’t of a millennial, I am inclined to a degree of skepticism of the accusation of some, that the “sharing economy” of which Uber is just one manifestation,[1] is merely a 21st century “information-age” disguise of classic worker exploitation.

While there are several different legal tests to differentiate employees from independent contractors, the relevant standards distill down to an “economic realities” inquiry into the degree of the employer’s right of control over the relationship.

In this respect it is interesting that, notwithstanding the apparent direction of pending litigation toward an “employee” classification, reported polls of Uber drivers themselves (2 to 1) and the West Coast public (62% to 22%) indicate the contravailing perception of independent contractors.

Certainly Jasmine enjoys more flexibility in her relationship to Uber than a typical employee.  She drives only when she wants to and it is convenient for her to do so, and she enhances a likelihood of personal tips by her manner of service including water and mints.

Due to a host of sociological factors, and as the traditional model of employment has become more precarious, the sharing economy has greater prominence among millennials than among boomers.  Those commentators seem right who espouse a new, third legal category in addition to employees and independent contractors.

[1] Air B & B, “couchsurfing,” Crowdfunding.”

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