The U.S. has always prided itself as a place where opportunities to make your own success are created and encouraged. The “lift-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality” is basically the American Dream. While it’s not quite as easy as some people make it sound, it’s hard to deny that now more than ever, we are living in an age of making a name for yourself. Not everyone attempts this by singing and dancing in YouTube videos, however. More and more people are earning money as contract workers, either as their primary income or to supplement it. At-home call center jobs, contracted writing positions, ride-sharing drivers — the option to do this sort of work has been a life-saver for many people. Being able to earn an honest living without having to commit to a traditional 9-to-5 workplace setting certainly has its advantages. What “gig” work does not offer, however, are traditional benefits.
Congress as well as lawmakers in a handful of states are trying to figure out a way to adjust the current standard to better fit this “Gig Economy” (informally defined as “an environment in which temporary positions are common and organizations contract with independent workers for short-term arrangements”). The idea that keeps getting tossed around would allow contract workers to gain access to portable benefits plans that move with them as they move from gig-job to gig-job. It has been estimated that 16 percent of the American workforce is made up of independent contractors or other “alternative” workers (people who work unsteady hours and don’t have a formal employer). A study by Intuit predicts that by 2020, as much as 40 percent of American workers will be independent contractors.
One of the main issues is workplace safety. Many online labor platforms exist in a type of gray area. Are workers classified as employees or aren’t they? Employees have more rights under the law than independent contractors do. In fact, some companies are misleading their workers into thinking they’re independent contractors and therefore not eligible for benefits. For example, employees are protected from the financial burden of injury under worker’s compensation laws. Some “gig” companies are seeking to protect themselves from liability by fighting for strict, across-the-board definitions of what it means to be an independent contractor, but workers are fighting back with moderate success. Courts have found that indeed some companies are dodging their obligations in lawsuits by workers for back wages and benefits.
In contrast, some municipalities are trying to implement portable benefits programs. Currently, a few big cities have agreed to allow surcharges for driving services that will help contribute to a worker’s compensation fund. The next step seems to be the establishment of benefits plans that are as portable as the gig worker. There are several details to work out, and a lot of ground yet to cover, but as workers continue to move further into the 21st century, so must the framework of workplace law.
If you have any questions about this topic or think your workers’ compensation benefits have been wrongly applied or denied, you can find out more by discussing it with one of the attorneys at The Mann Law Firm. We have over 50 years of experience helping people and we can help you. Based in Macon, we proudly serve communities throughout Georgia. Contact us by calling (478) 742-3381 or by filling out our online form.