Florida’s jobs chief may be on his way out of office, but not before issuing an order declaring Uber drivers are independent contractors instead of employees. The finding breaks with recent rulings in other states, and one of the drivers is planning to appeal.
Transportation network companies—businesses like Uber and Lyft—promise to be a major feature in the coming legislative session. While the app-based ventures disrupt the taxi industry, lawmakers are struggling to figure out how to regulate them.
One major question is safety—legislators are pushing for strong background checks, and perhaps additional identification in the car. But answering a question about that issue before a House panel last week, Uber driver Harry Sipple mentioned another big sticking point.
“I’m very much in favor of that, I have nothing to hide and any independent contractor—which is what we are,” Sipple says, “we are not employees, and I do not want to be an employee.”
That question of employment status is more than just a Florida issue. In the past few months, rulings in Oregon and California have come down stating drivers are employees. That means Uber and the like could be on the hook for a whole host of potentially costly employee benefits—but only in those states. Officials in Florida recently decided not to grant unemployment assistance to former Uber drivers.
One of those drivers is appealing the order in Florida’s Third District.
Fort Lauderdale employment attorney Donna Ballman says the matter comes down to control.
“I think that at least under Florida law, the state got it right,” Ballman says, “because the drivers can drive just as much as they want, the days that they want.”
“If they have more than a three or four month lapse then they get delisted,” she goes on, “but they can drive an hour a week or forty hours a week, it’s up to the driver.”
Ballman cautions businesses like Uber in the so-called gig economy will be facing similar questions until the courts sort out what just labor protections people are and aren’t eligible for while working for these new kinds of businesses. If appeals continue, the Florida Supreme Court could eventually be ruling on how the state should proceed.