Classification of California gig drivers rides on pending court case

There has been an ongoing battle between rideshare companies and drivers regarding worker classification. Gig driver companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash wanted to classify their workers as independent contractors – in order to avoid providing them additional benefits like healthcare and workers’ compensation, to which they would otherwise be entitled as employees.

However, a fight over rideshare worker classification in California may change that.

The precarious status of gig drivers

The history of employment classification for Lyft and Uber drivers is complex. The companies both initially classified their workers as independent contractors. However, a law passed in California in 2019 forced these companies to consider them employees.

In 2020, these gig companies sponsored a ballot initiative in California known as Proposition 22 – which passed with a 58% vote. Prop 22 defined gig drivers not as employees, and not as independent contractors in the traditional sense – but as a third category of worker that receives some limited benefits, not including workers’ compensation.

However, in August of 2021, a judge ruled Prop 22 unconstitutional under California law, citing several reasons – including that Prop 22 limited the legislature’s ability to make gig workers eligible for workers’ compensation. This ruling is currently under appeal.

Why worker classification may change the liability question

If the final outcome of this case goes in favor of gig drivers, they will be classified as employees. This means they would be entitled to receive workers’ compensation. In addition, gig driver companies may face some liability risk in the event of car crashes through vicarious liability.

Vicarious liability is the legal principle which dictates that an employer assumes liability for the accidents caused by their employees. This would offer considerably greater protections to gig workers in the event of personal injury or damages caused to others while on the job.