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Ride-Sharing companies like Uber and Lyft are changing the way people commute. With cheaper prices than taxi services and payment that is controlled directly through a service’s app, acquiring a ride has never been easier. However, since drivers are regular citizen workers, this raises some interesting questions about their rights especially when it comes to sustaining an injury on the job.
Last January, an Uber driver was working in Los Angeles on his typical late-night weekend shift when he dropped his SUV full of unruly passengers off at their apartment around 2:30 a.m.. They refused to leave his car, however, and a fight ensued leading to the driver breaking his jaw and putting him in the hospital for a week.
Unfortunately, the driver is not the only person to have been injured on his ride sharing job. In a separate incident, an off-duty Boston cop yelled racial slurs at his Uber driver before assaulting him and stealing his car. A Lyft passenger punched his driver in the nose last May, and in another instance in LA, a driver was stabbed in the face and neck. In all of these cases, the injured parties were left without work and did not receive a dime from a worker’s compensation program. Why is this the case?
Ride-sharers, like Lyft and Uber drivers, are not technically considered employees. They are hired as independent contractors, and as such, they are not entitled to benefits the way employees are. Being an employee offers certain protections, like overtime, paid sick days, health insurance, and workers’ compensation. Being an independent contractor offers certain other freedoms – namely, setting work hours and picking clients. However, these individuals are not entitled to the protections regular employees enjoy.
In the Uber case, the driver is stuck with mountains of medical debt, as he does not have any health insurance. He also has to cope with lost wages, as Uber is his only source of income. In a situation as dire as this, what are his options?
Predicaments like this have become the basis of lawsuits against Uber and Lyft to change worker classification from independent contractor to employee. Labor activists say that companies like Uber and Lyft are taking advantage of their workers by exercising considerable control over their workplace relationship (typical of an employee), while paying them freelance wages with little job certainty.
As of September 2, 2015, judges in California have deemed the lawsuit against Uber a class action suit, meaning it will affect all drivers who contacted Uber directly with their concerns. While these cases will only affect Uber drivers in California, they will likely set precedent for other jurisdictions in the future. If Uber drivers win the suit, the company will be forced to handle taxes like Social Security, as well as pay for benefits like health insurance and reimburse for expenses like gasoline and car maintenance. While Uber maintains that a full-time driver can net up to $90,000 a year, others believe the estimate is way off and that full-time drivers make closer to $39,000.
“A lot of their success is built on the backs of the drivers,” said Shannon Liss-Riordan, the driver’s representation in the Uber case. “And a lot of the money that they are making stems from a scheme whereby the company is able to shift to its workers many of the costs of running a business.”
There is no official word on when a judge is expected to rule over the suit. If Uber drivers have their way, individuals can expect to be reimbursed for injuries in the future. If you have been injured on the job, do not hesitate to contact us.