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Employee or contractor? What could be at stake for Uber drivers

With the Ohio General Assembly currently discussing the passage of regulations for ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, it's possible that new conversations could begin regarding the employee status given to drivers who work for such companies.

If you've been paying attention to the news lately, you know that California recently voted on whether Uber drivers should be considered employees or independent contractors. Based on California employment laws, the state believed that Uber drivers should be considered employees and therefore eligible for employee benefits, such as workers' compensation. The question some of our Columbus readers may be asking now: could a similar decision be made here in Ohio as well?

This is a tricky question to answer because our state's employment laws differ from California's. Here in Ohio, we determine employee status using a means test establish by the Ohio Supreme Court case Gillum v. Indus. Comm., 141 OS 373 (1943). According to the court, if a person is allowed to exert control over the work they do, then they are considered an independent contractor.

If we apply this ruling to Uber drivers who oftentimes have complete control over the fares they pick up, one might argue that they are contractors and therefore not eligible for employee benefits. If a driver believed that they were an employee though, they might be shocked to learn that they do not have access to things like workers' compensation benefits if they became injured during the course of work.

As some of our readers already know, not having access to workers' compensation benefits after an injury can create financial problems for the individual. They may not be able to afford the cost of medical expenses, lost wages or time away from work. It's because of this very real problem that our state should consider it when passing future legislation, particularly because ride-sharing services may become increasingly popular as time goes on.

Sources: The Ohio Watchdog, "Ohio bill would regulate Uber, Lyft," Maggie Thurber, July 1, 2015

The Business Insider, "The driver who beat Uber is just the beginning — get ready for a flood of copycat cases," Biz Carson, July 14, 2015

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