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State mulling over broadening employee protections

Long known for being a progressive state when it comes to protecting the rights of workers, the State of California is now considering whether to require workers now treated as independent contractors to be provided with the full protections of employees.

The so-called gig economy, in which contracted workers earn money by the job and are, technically speaking, self-employed, is a powerful force in the present economy both in California and throughout the country. For instance, those who operate full time for ride-share companies like Uber or Lyft are, under current law, independent contractors.

Getting to classify workers as independent contractors is a huge boon to businesses. Independent contractors ordinarily do not have to be paid minimum wage or receive other paid benefits, even those otherwise required under California's employment law.

Moreover, so long as the company pays the independent contractor what it agreed to pay, things like workers' compensation, payroll taxes, unemployment and the like are the responsibility of the worker.

The new law would make a large segment of the population in this state employees, and their employers would have to treat them accordingly. Many industries, including the ride-share industry, are seeking for compromise and have also threatened to use the ballot initiative process in order to protect their interests.

While there is still work to be done with respect to this new measure, which still has an uncertain future, it will hopefully serve to better protect California's workers. In the meantime, it is important to remember that businesses may not classify workers as independent contractors when, under California law, they are employees. If a business does do this, the worker may have a claim for unpaid wages.

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