In California, there has been an ongoing debate as to how independent contractors – also called “gig” workers – should be treated when it comes to workplace benefits, such as the right to be paid a minimum wage, overtime and workers’ compensation benefits. Since gig work has become so prominent, many workers are unprotected if they are injured on the job or face other workplace issues. As the dispute approaches its conclusion, those who are in this category should be cognizant of their current rights and what their rights could be in the future.
A new law would mean gig workers become classified as employees, as recently passed by the state senate. It is called AB5. The state assembly will analyze the bill and discuss amendments. If it is passed, it will then go to the governor. With this bill, gig workers, like those who drive for ridesharing apps and delivery people, will become employees. This can be a significant boost to their circumstances, as they will be given rights they currently do not have, especially workers’ compensation benefits.
Companies have been accused of treating workers as fungible and depriving them of basic worker rights. In some instances, workers were classified as gig employees even though they are employees in all aspects apart from the legal designation. This is linked to a decision by the California Supreme Court saying that a test could be used to determine whether a person is an employee or not. Based on that decision, people who perform tasks under the control of the company that are essential to that company and the worker is not serving as an independent enterprise will be considered employees.
Those who are against the bill say that the gig workers’ flexibility could be hindered and companies will need to pass costs on to consumers and pay gig employees less to make up for the requirement of workers’ compensation insurance and other protective devices. Ridesharing and food delivery companies have proposed alternatives in which workers would get some benefits, but not all that are required under AB5.
While the other benefits that would be provided under this law, like minimum wage, are important, workers’ compensation benefits and all it entails can be one of the most critical shields people have. Being injured on the job can result in medical expenses, lost income, the need to change careers and life-changing problems. As this recent law is considered and altered, those who are in the gig economy and are injured should be aware of their potential rights to workers’ compensation benefits.