Over the last century, a full-time employment model has dominated the American workforce, and the country’s workplace laws are built around it. But as employers and workers alike embrace the greater flexibility of contract work, there are more questions about which laws should apply, and to whom.
Many companies are skirting their employer obligations by misclassifying workers as independent contractors, says David Weil, dean of the Heller School at Brandeis University.
“Businesses can get all the benefits of closely controlling everything that happens in the delivery of a service or the creation of a product,” says Weil, a former Labor Department administrator under President Obama who enforced fair wage laws. “And yet when it comes to responsibility for basic employment conditions like health and safety, or like compliance with labor standards, our laws let them off the hook completely.”
Moreover, people working as contractors cannot sue for workplace violations under most federal laws, making them vulnerable to exploitation, Weil says. In his work at the Labor Department, he says he saw cases involving exploitation of warehouse workers, for example, who were labeled contractors doing the work of employees but earning below the minimum wage.
“The probability of violation was very high where you had subcontracting, outsourcing relationships,” Weil says.
Even where there are no clear violations, many contractors say the legal structure gives employers the upper hand.
Seth Dudzinski, for example, has worked in quality control for two San Francisco-area pharmaceutical companies as a contractor for the last five years. Dudzinski, 33, feels he should be classified as an employee, because he does the same work as employees, except he wears a different color ID badge.
“There is a shuttle that only full-time employees could use that is six blocks from my house, but I would have to pay to use it, so that’s a little messed up,” he says. The shuttle would make his commute 45 minutes, but taking public transportation takes up to two hours.
Dudzinski says he desperately wants to be hired so he can be eligible for things like stock options and employer retirement contributions, but he feels he can’t push for it.
“There isn’t much room to negotiate,” he says. And, he says, he’s keenly aware that his contractor status restricts his ability to complain.
Read the full story at: Gig Economy Renews Debate Over Whether Contractors Are Really Employees | UPR Utah Public Radio