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Employee Rights in the Gig Economy

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News last week that Uber executives admit to owing drivers in New York millions of dollars after shortchanging them in commission payments is a reminder that workers in the so-called "gig economy" have rights and should always protect them.

The term "gig economy" refers to the increase in self-employed individuals who work for larger companies on a contract or freelance basis. In many instances, these workers use online platforms to hire themselves out for everything from housecleaning, home repair and transportation to writing and data entry.

Proponents of the gig economy say it provides workers with the ability to make their own schedule. Negatives of this emerging job structure are thought to include uncertainty, lower wages, and little in the way of basic legal protections such as being paid a minimum wage and being protected by workers' compensation insurance.

In the New York Uber matter, the ride-hailing service reported it mistakenly took its 25 percent cut of passenger fees from a total that included state taxes, instead of deducting it from the lower amount after taxes were excluded. This resulted is Uber drivers in New York have been shortchanged more than $200 million since the beginning of 2015, according to a New York Times story.

What rights do gig workers have?

Although Uber promises to make its drivers whole in the New York case, the question whether workers in the gig economy are legal employees, and thus entitled to employment rights and benefits provided by federal and state employment laws, has yet to be resolved. It's a worldwide debate.

Numerous lawsuits have been filed and fought over. Each one must be assessed on its own merits. There is evidence that the threat of wage and hour litigation or other legal action has convinced many gig economy employers to re-classify workers as employees as opposed to independent contractors.

As the gig economy continues to flourish, legal protections provided to workers hired through this system will undoubtedly change. In the meantime, if you are a contract worker, freelancer, or full-time employee, and you feel your rights have been violated,  speak with a knowledgeable attorney who can review the facts of your case and determine if legal action is warranted.

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