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State rules that Uber drivers are not employees

Several months back, our blog discussed how Uber, the app-based ride-sharing company that relies on a large network of drivers to make customer pickups, was embroiled in a bitter legal dispute here in Florida.

The dispute in question revolved around the May decision by the state Department of Revenue to classify two former Uber drivers as employees instead of independent contractors, such that they were able to file claims for unemployment.    

For its part, Uber, which had much to lose from its drivers being classified as employees, appealed the decision to the Department of Economic Opportunity, which handed down its decision on the matter just last week.

In a somewhat surprising turn of events, the decision of the Department of Revenue was reversed, as it was determined that Uber drivers were more properly classified as independent contractors.

In his 26-page order, Executive Director Jesse Panuccio highlighted a multitude of ways in which the Uber business model grants its drivers freedoms that would otherwise be unimaginable in the context of a normal employer-employee relationship, including:

  • Drivers decide when they work
  • Drivers utilize their own vehicles
  • Drivers are not subject to any sort of direct supervision
  • Drivers are allowed to work for direct competitors   

According to experts, the decision, which was naturally praised by Uber, will only serve to create  more uncertainty in this novel area, as states have been anything less than uniform in their decisions regarding whether these types of drivers are properly considered employees.

Indeed, both California and Oregon recently determined that Uber drivers are indeed employees and, as such, are entitled to the accompanying benefits and/or protections.

It's worth nothing that closer to home, a state House subcommittee recently advanced a bill designed to preclude local governments from regulating app-based transportation services. At this juncture, it remains unclear what impact, if any, the Executive Director's decision will have on this legislation.

If you believe that your rights under the state's wage and hour laws have been violated, please consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible to learn more about your options.  

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