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Legal battle brewing over whether Uber drivers are employees

It used to be that after a late flight, night on the town or any sort of car trouble that a person's first call was to a local taxi service to arrange a ride, something that could result in a considerable wait. Things have changed, however, thanks to the proliferation of ride-sharing companies like Lyft and Uber, which rely on a large network of freelance drivers to make quick customer pickups.

The financial impact of Uber has been particularly pronounced in Miami-Dade County, as recently released data shows that 10,000-plus active drivers have brought in over $30 million since the company's June 2014 launch in the area.

Despite this remarkable success, Uber has been besieged by legal issues both here in Florida and across the nation.

Indeed, it now finds itself facing another legal challenge after officials with the Department of Economic Opportunity recently found that an Uber driver was considered an employee eligible for unemployment benefits.

The driver in question had his Uber accounted deactivated back in April after a dispute with the company over damages to his sport utility vehicle that were sustained while transporting a fare. After the deactivation, he filed for unemployment benefits with the state, citing wrongful termination.  

While Uber has until June 9 to appeal this ruling, legal experts are already predicting that the company will pursue an appeal. That's because classifying Uber drivers as employees in the state would mean the company was responsible for everything from paying unemployment insurance and Social Security benefits to ensuring compliance with the state's wage and hour laws.

These same experts indicate that the determination of whether Uber drivers are employees will hinge upon whether the degree of control exercised by the company is extensive enough to forge an employer-employee relationship.

To that end, Uber argues that its drivers are akin to freelance taxi drivers who take calls radioed out from a dispatch center, while its drivers have argued that they are employees given that the company requires them to abide by a comprehensive and rigidly enforced set of standards and termination policies.  

It will indeed be fascinating to see how this issue is resolved. What are your thoughts? 

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