In the case of Uber in the UK, Judge Anthony Snelson wrote in the ruling, “the notion that Uber in London is a mosaic of 30,000 small businesses linked by a common ‘platform’ is to our minds faintly ridiculous.” Rather, he argued that Uber is ultimately in the business as a supplier of transportation services, and the drivers are its employees.
Across the pond, Lyft settled its lawsuit for $12.25 million for misclassifying its drivers as independent contractors when, in actuality, the company exerted far more control — control typically reserved for employees.
These cases might feel a world apart from life in creative industries, but there are important lessons to learn from each of them. They point to a convergence of regulations across the world — because no matter where you work or who you work for, how your client views you may completely differ completely from the eyes of the law. There are a few key warning signs to look out for.
A Label Changes
Just because you have been labeled as an independent contractor doesn’t mean it’s an irrefutable fact. When Lars Glimhagen was terminated after 12 years of service as an independent contractor in British Columbia, Canada, he was not eligible for any compensation or payment in lieu of notice because of his employment status. He disagreed and filed a complaint.
The Supreme Court of British Columbia found Glimhagen’s role during his time with the company to be an integral part of the business’ operations and created a “third state” of worker category, known as “dependent contractors.” Lars received $78,000 as payment in lieu of proper notice, like an employee.
Even the most established and prominent employer is not above mistakes. Photographer Robert Stolarik sued the New York Times Co. for shortchanging him approximately 3,300 hours’ worth of overtime across 10 years by classifying him as an independent contractor. Stolarik argued the American newspaper exerted control over his schedule and methodology, which is the crux in determining the employment relationship under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
In both Canada and the US, the definition of an independent contractor is one who can operate autonomously, set their own schedule, and use their own equipment. The lack of these key elements in your working environment means you may have inched into the “employee” zone.
Serfdom Instead of Freedom
In 2016, the Employment Tribunal (ET) in the UK agreed with two Uber drivers that they were misclassified as contractors and should be entitled to minimum wage and holiday pay like full-time employees.
Judge Jennifer Eady learned how drivers were told they needed to accept at least 80 percent of their trip requests to retain their account status and concluded, “even if the evidence allowed that drivers were not obliged to accept all trips, the very high percentage of acceptances required justified the ET’s conclusion.”
Over 1,000 kilometers away, an Italian court was asked to rule on the relationship between food delivery service Foodora and its riders, where the latter claimed the company had complete “control over the activity of the couriers, their timesheets, and their contracts.” These are often hallmarks of employees.
Another 24,000 kilometers east, an audit by the Fair Work Ombudsman at Pizza Hut franchisees across Australia found various operators were guilty of misclassification of workers, depriving delivery drivers of entitlements such as annual leave, sick leave, and superannuation. Some employees were paid as little as AU$5.70, compared to the required minimum hourly rate of AU$17.70 at the time.
Read the full story at Gigs Going Global? What Freelancers Need to Know About Classification | Webdesigner Depot