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.
Lauren Teukolsky is the founder and owner of Teukolsky Law, A Professional Corporation.