Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Lyfting independent contractor status

If I asked you to identify Lyft's business, how would you answer? 

"They're a transportation company," you'd say. There's no other correct answer … unless you ask Lyft. 

Lyft will tell you that it's a tech company, not a provider of transportation.

Why does this matter? Because Lyft has been embroiled in a class action lawsuit since 2017 over the accessibility of its vehicles for people with disabilities. According to NBC News, Lyft argues "that it is not subject to regulations in the Americans with Disabilities Act that would require it to ensure the availability of wheelchair accessible vehicles because it is a technology company, not a transportation business."

I call b.s. A company is defined by the service it provides. Lyft provides transportation. You might use technology (its app) to access that transportation. But at the end of the day Lyft is nothing more than a fancy taxi service. Saying Lyft is a tech company because of its app is no different than saying Yellow Cab is a telecommunications company because you use a telephone to contact dispatch.

What does any of this have to do with employment law? Accommodating the disabilities of its riders isn't the only legal issue Lyft has been fighting in court for years. It's also been fighting the employment status of its drivers. Under the ABC test, this is an argument Lyft cannot possibly win.

Under the ABC test, a worker is presumed to be an employee (as opposed to an independent contractor) unless:

A/ The worker is free of the direction/control of the hiring organization;

B/ The worker's tasks are unusual in relation to the company's core business; and

C/ The worker is customarily independent from the company and has their own business identity on the open market.

If Lyft is a transportation company, there is no way a driver can meet "B." Thus, all of Lyft's drivers are employees, not independent contractors.

33 states currently use some form the ABC test. It's also being eyed by the Department of Labor for national adoption.

Thus, whether Lyft is a transportation company or a tech company matters a lot. I just don't think it passes the laugh test for Lyft even to suggest it's the latter.