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May
2015
28

Big Misclassification Ruling: FL Court Says Uber Driver Was Employee, Is Owed Unemployment Benefits

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In a decision that could set a new precedent for Uber and the on-demand economy in general, a Florida court has decided that an Uber driver was an employee when he had his account deactivated and is thus entitled to unemployment benefits.  

Darren McGillis, a 46-year-old former driver, was stripped of his right to use Uber when he requested information about a passenger who had damaged his car.  Uber eventually reimbursed McGillis for the damage, but disallowed him from using the app henceforth.  

Uber’s business model revolves around murky employment status. The company refuses to list its workers as independent contractors, instead referring to its drivers as “customers.”  There is growing opposition to this approach from those who consider this a form of employee misclassification. Uber, naturally, pays no health care, disability, overtime, sick days, maternity leave or vacation as a result of this arrangement.

According to The Miami Herald, McGillis’ situation started during the Ultra music festival. The passenger opened the door of the SUV McGillis had purchased specifically for driving for Uber, and it was struck by a scooter.  He pressed Uber for reimbursement but response was delayed. He followed up with an angry email: “I am going to the passenger’s home tonight to get their names since you won’t provide them,” he wrote.  Uber then froze him out of their system, before eventually paying for the damage. 

Uber has until June 3rd to appeal the state’s decision to classify McGillis as an employee, and until June 9th to appeal the decision that he has a right to unemployment benefits.  Uber is expected to appeal both decisions.

Fiona Coombe, director of legal and regulatory research at Staffing Industry Analysts, does not think beating this particular decision will rid Uber of coming legal woes:

“Uber may choose to appeal this decision but before the trickle of cases like this becomes a flood they may be better advised to review their business model and reduce the level of control they have over drivers.  It is this question of control over what service, and how the service is provided, that is the focus of these cases, and which could prove to be very costly if drivers are found to be employees.”

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