The issue of whether certain workers should be classified as employees or independent contractors has jumped to the forefront in recent years, largely because of Uber – lawsuits have popped up around the country arguing that Uber drivers are actually regular employees, not contractors, and thus deserve the protections and benefits afforded to employees by law. Generally, this has been portrayed as a “sharing economy” issue, a byproduct of the rise of lone gunmen workers joining up with tech firms to offer a service quasi-individually. But actually, most notably with UPS and FedEx drivers, this is something that has been considered in the legal field for years now, before Uber was on the scene.
Now, Amazon Prime Now drivers, who deliver packages in a scarily short frame of time after a user clicks “purchase” at home or the office, have sued Amazon in Arizona and California, alleging that the company has mischaracterized them as independent contractors, contrary to the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Their case is strong. Prime Now drivers wear uniforms and work a fixed schedule, two things that are very, very rare for contractors. The key to understand here is that there are theoretically both benefits and detriments to being an independent contractor. On the plus side, you enjoy a level of freedom that employees do not: you cannot be made to come to an office to work, and usually, you cannot be subject to the same workplace standards and practices that full employees are. The detriments are large, though: employers are not required to pick up half of your payroll tax, are not required to provide health insurance, and you’re excluded from company-wide benefits like retirement, overtime pay, and paid vacation. Think of it this way: independent contracting works great as a “side gig,” but not so much for your primary or only job.
If it seems to you like it’s often drivers of one kind or another who file suit in these cases, you aren’t wrong. Drivers, whether delivery or taxi, almost always work their own schedules and are not required to report to a workplace, simply because, why would they have to?
But if Amazon is both requiring uniforms as well as setting the drivers’ schedules, it very well might have crossed the line into classic employment. We’ll see how the suit turns out.
One final thing: Amazon Prime Now drivers have also sued for wage theft. Why? Because as noted, independent contractors have no statutory legal right to overtime pay, as employees do. So, any drivers who worked, say, more than 12 hours a day and weren’t paid the legal overtime rate for those hours have a solid wage theft claim.
We’ll follow this story and keep you updated!