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NYDOL rules that ex-Uber drivers are eligible for unemployment benefits

We previously reported on the New York Department of Labor’s (NYDOL) delay in ruling on whether some former Uber drivers were eligible for unemployment benefits. To determine eligibility for unemployment benefits, NYDOL had to decide whether Uber drivers are employees or independent contractors. NYDOL finally reached a decision last week in favor of the Uber drivers.

Worker advocates in New York have taken this ruling from the NYDOL as a sign that they could be successful in arguing that Uber should treat its drivers in New York as employees. This would mean that they are entitled to a whole host of employment benefits such as workers compensation and overtime pay.

New York has now joined Oregon and California in determining that Uber drivers are employees for purposes of unemployment benefits determinations. Each state that makes a determination that Uber drivers are employees creates more precedent and more momentum for other states to do the same.

We also previously reported on a settlement in a class action against Uber regarding the classification of its drivers as independent contractors in California and Massachusetts. After we reported on that settlement, the judge who considered the terms of the settlement refused to approve it. Thus, this case may be headed to trial and the court would get to decide whether Uber must treat its drivers in California and Massachusetts as employees.

According to the website run by the representatives of the class of Uber drivers, however, only a subset of the original class of drivers could go to trial because the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that Uber could force some of the class members to bring their claims in arbitration.  The class representatives are still trying to get a ruling that the arbitration agreements these class members entered into are unenforceable.  Thus, this case could not only lead to a ground breaking ruling on the classification of workers in the “gig economy” but also a decision on the controversial practice of employers forcing workers to bring legal claims against them in secretive, unfair arbitration proceedings.