COVID-19 has spawned a wave of employment lawsuits, including cases alleging wage-and-hour violations, employment discrimination, unsafe work environment, and whistleblower retaliation, among others. Corporate defense firm Fisher Phillips has been tracking all these lawsuits on a map; this helpful tool shows that California leads the nation in employment-related coronavirus litigation, with over 137 cases out of the total of nearly 700 as of September 17, 2020. In the last seven days, California alone has reported six new COVID-related cases in employment law.
One longstanding area of litigation that has been affected by the coronavirus is the misclassification of workers as independent contractors under California’s AB 5, a new law which creates a presumption that most workers are employees. Many gig-economy companies, including ride-share titans Uber and Lyft, classify their drivers as independent contractors rather than employees. The classification question has grown particularly relevant during the pandemic because many gig workers need paid sick leave and other disability protections available only to employees.
One case that highlights how COVID may affect existing AB5 cases is Rogers v. Lyft, Inc. (N.D. Cal., Case No. 4:20-cv-01938-VC). In this case, drivers allege that Lyft misclassified them as independent contractors under AB 5 and that Lyft failed to provide them appropriate paid sick time. In April 2020, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria denied the drivers’ emergency motion for a preliminary injunction that would have forced Lyft to immediately reclassify them as employees and grant them sick leave. The judge scolded the workers for using the pandemic to try to get a positive ruling on the classification question. The drivers appealed the denial of injunctive relief and the case is now in the Ninth Circuit.
Rogers v. Lyft poses a chicken-and-egg question: Did the pandemic create the need for workers to be recognized as employees and therefore receive paid sick leave and other protections only afforded to employees, or are workers using the pandemic to create reasons they should be recognized as employees and receive additional benefits? Although there may not be a clear answer to this question, there can be little doubt that the pandemic will help shape the early course of AB 5 enforcement in California.
If you believe that you have been misclassified as an independent contractor instead of an employee, contact Teukolsky Law today for a free consultation.
On September 10, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 1867. Passage of the bill means that millions of Californians will now be eligible for up to 80 hours of supplemental paid sick leave during COVID-19. While many workers were already given paid sick leave under the federal FFCRA (Families First Coronavirus Response Act), this bill expands paid sick leave to employees working for private employers with more than 500 U.S.-based workers, and all health care providers and emergency response workers not covered under FFCRA. The bill also codifies existing paid sick leave provisions for food service workers.
To qualify for the expanded leave, the employee must perform work outside their home or residence and satisfy one of the following conditions: 1) be advised by a medical provider to quarantine due to coronavirus-related concerns; 2) due to COVID-19 concerns, not be permitted to work; or 3) be under a federal, state, or local isolation or quarantine order. The legislation will be enforced through the Labor Commissioner’s office; there is no private right of action to sue the employer directly in court.
New regulations such as these are essential for containing the spread of the coronavirus because they create a pathway for workers to stay home and not risk their health or their income. Keeping sick workers at home also stops the spread of COVID-19 to the general public. We are grateful to live in California, which was recently ranked #1 by Oxfam in terms of worker protections in a study entitled, "Best States to Work During COVID-19." Hopefully, California will continue to lead the way in worker’s rights legislation during the pandemic.
If you believe that your employer has failed to provide you with paid sick leave or you have any questions about your rights during the COVID-19 crisis, contact Teukolsky Law today for a free consultation.
Lauren Teukolsky is the founder and owner of Teukolsky Law, A Professional Corporation.