Uber Driver Is Employee, California Regulators Rule [Updated]

Big news for the gig economy.

Uber Driver Is Employee, California Regulators Rule [Updated]
[Photo: Flickr user Sonny Abesamis]

The California Labor Commission has ruled that former San Francisco-based Uber driver Barbara Ann Berwick was, in fact, an employee of Uber, not an independent contractor, according to Reuters. The ride-sharing service has been ordered to reimburse Berwick for more than $4,000 in expenses.


Uber has always maintained that its drivers are only contractors, a classification that has opened the company to lawsuits and protests of its practices on multiple occasions. This ruling, however, charges that Uber acts much more like a traditional employer than it posits:

”Defendants hold themselves out as nothing more than a neutral technological platform, designed simply to enable drivers and passengers to transact the business of transportation. The reality, however, is that defendants are involved in every aspect of the operation.”

The New York Times writes that the commission argued, for example, that Uber gave its drivers phones and disabled the app if drivers stopped working for an extended period of time. News of the ruling–which was actually made back in March–surfaced Tuesday night when Uber filed an appeal.

Earlier this year, Fast Company‘s Sarah Kessler wrote about the legal hurdles facing the gig economy, and whether companies like Uber need to redefine the meaning of employee:

“If Uber and other companies are going to be as big as some claim, a new deal has to be brokered, one that squares the legal rules governing work with new products and services. What benefits can you expect from a quasi-employer? What does it mean to be both independent and tethered to an app-based company? The social contract between gig economy workers and employers is broken.”

Update: An Uber spokeswoman has pointed out that the California Labor Commission’s decision is “non-binding” and only impacts one driver. “It’s important to remember that the number one reason drivers choose to use Uber is because they have complete flexibility and control,” she writes. “The majority of them can and do choose to earn their living from multiple sources, including other ride sharing companies.”

[via Reuters]

About the author

Pavithra Mohan is an assistant editor for Fast Company Digital. Her writing has previously been featured in Gizmodo and Popular Science magazine.