We have long said that Uber and Lyft drivers are employees and not independent contractors. How drivers are classified makes a world of difference. If properly classified as employees, drivers are entitled to guaranteed minimum wages, overtime pay, workers compensation and many other benefits. In California, that could also mean paid sick leave.
Companies, of course, like to classify workers as independent contractors. As contractors, drivers have virtually no rights.
The classification battle between Uber and Lyft and their drivers has been going on for years. Both companies (especially Uber) have spent millions of dollars lobbying to get state legislatures to keep drivers as contractors. They have also included language in their drivers’ agreements that make it difficult for drivers to sue the company or participate in class actions.
The class action waiver language in the drivers’ agreements is especially important because it is nearly impossible to find a lawyer to fight a single case. The costs are simply prohibitive.
Coronavirus and Uber, Lyft
On March 12th, Lyft driver John Rogers sued Lyft. He claims the company failed to pay him sick days as required under California law. Rogers says that by not paying drivers for sick time, Lyft is endangering passengers who could be exposed to COVID-19 (coronavirus).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that anyone who is feeling ill should self quarantine to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus. Because Lyft doesn’t acknowledge that their drivers are employees, people like John Rogers may keep driving because they need the pay in order to support their families.
Rogers brought his lawsuit as a class action meaning he is asking the court to provide relief for all California drivers. Rogers lives in North Hollywood and has been driving for Lyft since 2014.
Earlier this year, California Assembly Bill 5 took effect. That law says that ride share drivers should be considered employees. Lyft, however, is challenging that designation. In fact, Lyft and several other companies have pledged $90 million to overturn the law.
In addition to asking that the court extend any relief to all California drivers denied sick leave, Rogers also asked the court for emergency relief. He says sick drivers need help right away.
Lyft is opposing the lawsuit. The company says that Rogers gave up his right to sue when he became a driver and agreed to the terms of Lyft’s driver’s agreement. (Uber has a similar mandatory arbitration clause.)
The most recent form of Lyft’s driver agreement says,
“Lyft’s Terms require individual arbitration of ‘ALL DISPUTES AND CLAIMS BETWEEN US,’ including “any dispute, claim or controversy, whether based on past, present, or future events, arising out of or relating to: this Agreement and prior versions thereof . . . , the Lyft Platform, the Rideshare Services . . . your relationship with Lyft, . . . any payments made or allegedly owed to you . . . any city, county, state or federal wage-hour law, trade secrets, unfair competition, compensation, breaks and rest periods, expense reimbursement . . . . The Terms also provide that claims may be brought ‘ONLY IN AN INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY’ and the ‘arbitrator may award declaratory or injunctive relief only in favor of the individual party seeking relief and only to the extent necessary to provide relief warranted by that party’s individual claims.’’”
In other words, Lyft says drivers give up their right to sue the company AND give up their right to participate in a class action.
Does the coronavirus pandemic have any impact on the debate?
Maybe not. John Rogers is a Lyft driver but California Uber drivers have filed a similar claim and have received the same response. It seems that Uber and Lyft would rather endanger the public than follow the law and pay sick workers as required by California law.
The Lyft case is assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco. Perceived to be sympathetic to drivers, even he is balking at their request.
In a hearing Thursday, he told the parties that he is not sure the driver’s arguments rise to the level of a true emergency. Because ridership is way down, most drivers haven’t worked enough hours to qualify for paid sick leave. There is also the issue of the just enacted federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act which applies to both employees and independent contractors. Drivers probably get paid more under the federal law then other California’s law.
One day after the parties met in court, Judge Chhabria ordered Lyft to explain what it is doing to assist Lyft drivers. Specifically, he asked “First, how is Lyft helping drivers who have symptoms consistent with COVID-19? (This question is not limited to drivers who have been diagnosed.) Second, how is Lyft helping other drivers (regardless of whether they are sick) whose income streams have been decimated as a result of the pandemic? This brief should contain no legal argument—just factual information about what Lyft is doing to alleviate the hardships being suffered by its drivers.”
It is unclear how the court will rule. While we think the drivers will ultimately prevail, the court’s hands are tied by the Federal Arbitration Act and the Supreme Court which says courts should enforce arbitration clauses in contracts. We think the drivers may lose this battle but will ultimately win the war. Of course, we think Uber and Lyft will continue to spend tens of millions of dollars to oppress drivers and keep them as underpaid “servants” with few rights.
The present court fights are about paid sick leave. We worry about drivers even making minimum wage. With nationwide coronavirus “stay at home orders” , drivers have little or no work.
Last week Business Insider interviewed one Uber driver in Hawaii who saw his income plunge from $200 per day to $25. “I currently earn $2.50 per hour, on top of the exposure to riders who possibly carry the virus,” he told Business Insider. “I cannot for my own sanity justify to myself why I would jeopardize the health and well being of other riders and of course my own family’s.”
Another driver reported his income dropped from $1,000 per week to just $16.
[Ed. Note: We once filed similar claims on behalf of thousands of Uber drivers all over the United States. We lost like so many other law firms. Unfortunately, the courts upheld the class action waivers and mandatory arbitration provisions in all of our cases.
We still provide tons of Uber and Lyft content on our website but are no longer representing rideshare drivers*. For more information, visit our Uber Lawsuit settlement page. Although we are no longer accepting new employment claims for rideshare drivers, we wish our driver friends the best. Hopefully political winds will soon change in states other than just California. If they do, we will be ready.
*We continue to represent victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Visit our sister site for more information.]