Up North, Uber Can’t Make Drivers Go to Amsterdam to Sue. (Wait, What?)

exposI bought a Montreal Expos t-shirt last week. Why? I needed some new work clothes.

I’ve been emailing with a friend in Ontario about the difference between the U.S. and Canada when it comes to coronavirus precautions, and we both agree it’s a good idea to keep the border closed for now. Did you see the Maid of the Mist pictures showing the Canadian boat with six well-distanced (and undoubtedly polite) passengers and the American boat packed like it’s 2019. Canada has hardly any cases. Anyway, I digress. As usual.

While Canada is on my mind, I’ll share a recent decision by the Supreme Court of Canada. The ruling will allow a proposed $400 million class action against Uber to proceed in Ontario on the issue of whether drivers are misclassified as independent contractors.

At issue was the validity of Uber’s arbitration agreements for drivers in Canada. The agreement required drivers to arbitrate any disputes in Amsterdam, following the rules of the International Chamber of Commerce and Netherlands law. Wait. What? Yes.

And there’s this: Filing a case would cost a driver US $14,500 in up-front administrative fees.

The Court’s opinion called the arbitration clause “unconscionable,” and Uber responded by confirming to The Star that it planned to update its arbitration agreements accordingly.

Gig economy platforms are under attack in Ontario, much like in the U.S. Think of Ontario as Canada’s version of California or Massachusetts but with better access to poutine.

According to The Star, the Ontario labour relations board ruled earlier this year that couriers for a food delivery app were not true independent contractors and therefore had the right to join a union. Drivers using the Uber Black platform are also challenging their classification as contractors. American expats are challenging the use of a superfluous U by the labour relations board.

Lesson: If you’re going to require arbitration, be reasonable. Amsterdam might be a nice place to visit (see the Vondelpark!), but it’s too much of a stretch to require an Ontario rideshare driver to go there to file a claim. Next time, try Greenland?

© 2020 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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What is a Dependent Contractor?

What is a dependent contractor?

One of the most frustrating aspects of the Employee vs. Independent Contractor conundrum is that that it’s really hard to spell conundrum. Another frustrating thing, though, is that the choice is binary. Under U.S. law, a worker is either an employee or an independent contractor. There’s no third choice.

Not so in Canada.

Our neighbor to the north recognizes the legal status of “dependent contractor.” A dependent contractor is a worker who operates as an independent business in most respects, but who works primarily for just one company.

In the U.S., doing all your work for just one company can sometimes cause the imaginary switch to flip from independent contractor to employee. A dependent contractor, however, sits comfortably in the land of in-between (which I think is somewhere near Newfoundland).

In Canada, there is no at-will employment. Regular employees are entitled to receive notice and severance pay before being shown the door. Independent contractors have no such rights. But dependent contractors do. In Canada, dependent contractors are entitled to notice and severance when terminated.

Could this third category of worker be recognized in the U.S.? Not likely to happen any time soon. In Canada, the main benefit of being a dependent contractor is entitlement to the same notice and severance benefits that Canadian employees are entitled to receive. In the U.S., most employees are at-will and, when they are fired, the only thing they get is out. (Get Out = great movie, by the way.) There’s rarely any legal entitlement to notice or severance pay.

U.S. employment laws are stuck in an earlier era and were not drafted with the modern workplace and gig economy in mind. Other worker status options are needed and should be considered. Maybe a version of “dependent contractor” status would work here, but it would look different than it does in Canada.

For now, the U.S. answer to the question, What is a Dependent Contractor? is that it’s not yet a thing. Hopefully one day it will be.

 

© 2018 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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