On August 10, a California judge issued a remarkable order blocking Uber and Lyft from continuing to misclassify their drivers as independent contractors rather than employees. This preliminary injunction from Judge Ethan P. Schulman of San Francisco Superior Court comes as part of the litigation brought by the State of California against Uber and Lyft because of the ride-hailing companies’ flagrant disregard for their duties under Assembly Bill 5 (A.B. 5).
A.B. 5 codified the Supreme Court of California’s decision in Dynamex Operations W. v. Superior Court (2018) 4 Cal.5th 903, and was signed into law in September of 2019. Under A.B. 5 and Dynamex, drivers for Uber and Lyft should be considered employees, not independent contractors. Despite this, Uber and Lyft have continued to misclassify their drivers as independent contractors. Hopefully, the August 10 injunction forces the companies to finally change course.
The court highlighted that when companies like Uber and Lyft misclassify their employees as independent contractors, they deprive them of access to basic workers’ rights and protections including minimum wage, overtime pay, meal and rest breaks, workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, health insurance, paid sick leave, and paid family leave. These worker protections are extremely important to working families and the economy as a whole, especially in the face of the challenges posed by a pandemic.
The court explains that in order to grant a preliminary injunction of Uber and Lyft’s violations of A.B. 5, the government must demonstrate that it had a reasonable probability of prevailing, with a presumption that the nonissuance of an injunction would be harmful to the public. This is different than in an ordinary case with private parties, where the party seeking the injunction faces a higher burden. This is because by enacting a statute, the legislature has already determined that a violation goes against the public interest.
In this case, the court opined that the government demonstrated an “overwhelming likelihood” of prevailing and that “substantial public harm” will result without an injunction. According to the court, Uber and Lyft’s violations of A.B. 5 pose, “real harms to real working people.” Under A.B. 5’s “ABC” test, a person is properly classified as an independent contractor if: (A) The person is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work; (B) The person performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business; and (C) The person is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as that involved in the work performed.
The judge in this decision primarily examined element B, which requires that the work performed be “outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.” Uber argued, as it has before, that it is a technology company, rather than a company that provides car rides, and that its “actual employees” work in engineering, development, marketing, and operations. Driving, the company insists, is not part of Uber’s usual course of business. The court rejected this argument, instead insisting that Uber could not survive without its drivers. Because drivers are central to Uber and Lyft's business models, they should be classified as employees.
Since the August 10 order, Uber and Lyft have threatened to halt operations in California, and Judge Schulman has denied the companies’ request for an extension of the deadline to appeal. Uber and Lyft have been attempting to delay their compliance with A.B. 5 because the companies are funding a ballot measure, Proposition 22, which would re-classify drivers as independent contractors. In issuing the injunction, however, the judge explained that he could not excuse the companies from compliance with A.B. 5 simply because they are waiting to see if Proposition 22 passes in November.