Originally published at: https://www.ohmydollar.com/2019/09/25/gig-economy/
We talk about:
- what makes you a contractor vs and employee
- what benefits “employees” get that contractors don’t (it isn’t just about taxes!)
- why this matters for other countries and states
- the downsides of this labor move for many workers, and even for app users in rural areas
Question to discuss:
- Do you drive for uber, lyft, amazon, or do any other kind of app-based gig economy work?
- Have you had a job where you’ve been been classified as a contractor before and whether or not you think it was an appropriate classification?
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Transcript (provided by our listener supporters on Patreon)
Lillian Karabaic: [00:00:03] Welcome to Oh My Dollar!, a personal finance show with a dash of glitter. Dealing with money can be scary and stressful. Here we give practical, friendly advice about money that helps you tackle the financial overwhelm. I’m your host, Lily Karabaic. And today we have a special guest. Chase. Chase Spross is joining us.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:00:19] Do you want to introduce yourself, Chase?
Chase Spross: [00:00:20] No, I just want to say hi.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:00:22] Thank you for jumping in. By the way, Chase is like not only running the board, but also I was like, “hey, people don’t want to listen to me, rant at them – by myself – for 20 minutes.”.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:00:32] So you have no idea what we’re talking about. And you haven’t seen the notes.
Chase Spross: [00:00:36] Bring it on.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:00:36] So you just you maybe more like make me look more informed, because I have the notes in front of me.
Chase Spross: [00:00:43] So.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:00:43] So the big the big thing I want to talk about today was we have brought up on the show before, the difference between W-2 and 1099 contractors.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:00:53] And this is a thing that like, it sounds uniquely American. But this has become this kind of classification of employees as contractors, which is technically – you run your own business.
Chase Spross: [00:01:05] Yea.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:01:06] It’s actually as apps like Uber and Lyft and, you know, TaskRabbit – become big across the world. This is a problem in countries all over the world. So Britain has us moving through their courts right now.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:01:21] India has been having a big issue with contractor and employee classification. So while, I’m gonna particularly talk about something that has hit America, there’s quite a few things that are happening in other countries that are reflecting this right now.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:01:35] But the big news is that California legislators approved a landmark bill on September 10th that requires companies like Uber and Lyft to treat contract workers as employees.
Chase Spross: [00:01:44] Wow.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:01:46] This is I mean, this is a huge deal. So this still technically has to get signed by the governor and then written up in the state assembly.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:01:54] But there’s very little anticipation that it won’t go through. Under the measure, it would go into effect on January 1st. And workers must be designated as employees instead of contractors – If here – is the definition they’re using,”A company exerts control over how they perform their tasks or if their work is part of a company’s regular business.”.
Chase Spross: [00:02:13] OK.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:02:15] It’s a huge deal. I don’t know if you order things off Amazon. I do almost every day.
Chase Spross: [00:02:19] Yea.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:02:19] There are at this point, Amazon has essentially a team of subcontractors, which are people with just a car that they have a random magnet slapped to the side that says “Amazon” that comes and delivers things. So if you get stuff same-day delivery, which I do more than I care to admit, because I’m not always the best at planning ahead.
Chase Spross: [00:02:38] I was ordering – That’s what I was doing when you came in.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:02:41] Right. So I think this is a this is like one of the things where it is. You probably don’t realize how many people you interact with on a daily basis that are in this category of contractors.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:02:56] And this is this is one of those things that I think has become more- It’s it’s really easy to hate VC-backed companies. Right?
Lillian Karabaic: [00:03:02] Like, it’s super easy to be angry at Uber and Lyft and Amazon and all of those because like they’re large corporations and it’s easy to get angry at them.
Chase Spross: [00:03:11] Sure.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:03:12] But this is a type of I considered it abuse, contractor misclassification abuse, that has been rampant in not just corporate culture, but nonprofit and small business culture for, you know, really the past- I think it’s been going on since the late 90s- And there are a lot of people that you may not realize are classified as independent contractors that fit what would be considered the legal definition of employees.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:03:38] So ride hailing drivers is one of them. Food delivery courier So when you get your doordash, your seamless, whatever. A lot of janitors.
Chase Spross: [00:03:45] Really?
Lillian Karabaic: [00:03:47] Are classified as contractors, almost all exotic and go-go dancers are classified as contractors. I have helped many a stripper incorporate themselves as an S-corp, because they are technically considered their own company and they usually pay to work at the establishment.
Chase Spross: [00:04:03] They pay to work there.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:04:04] Yeah, you pay a stage fee promotional workers. So you might have heard them called referred to as “promo girls” But if you happen to be in nightclubs really late at night, which I am not.
Chase Spross: [00:04:17] Camel’s cigarette people?
Lillian Karabaic: [00:04:18] Yeah. I think cigarettes might be so highly regulated now they don’t do it anymore. But these days it’s like for dispensaries or you know, there you know, there’s a they always work for liquor companies and stuff like that.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:04:31] But that also applies to the people that you see in grocery stores doing food samples on the weekends for different – if they’re not employed by the actual grocery store. They’re often contractors for the company. And often they’re contracted through third party marketing services and are not classified as employees.
Chase Spross: [00:04:47] Are my Costco samples safe?
Lillian Karabaic: [00:04:48] I I think Costco is in the category of they are done by employees.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:04:54] OK,.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:04:54] So I don’t know. I actually don’t go to Costco. So I haven’t evaluated. Oh, and- Asked them, I am the kind of person that totally every time I end up being in an Uber lift when I’m traveling, I’m like, please tell me about the economics of your situation. I’m so interested in this. How do you- What did you do before? Do you do another job? What is your- Yeah. I’m like I’m that I’m that to the driver.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:05:15] And I’m totally I’m totally the kind of person that will ask people of other contractor status when I’m getting a food sample from them at Costco. So. But that also applies to things like farmer’s market staff. So it’s not just like, oh, in large corporations, like a lot a lot of small farmers will employ people as contractors to work every Saturday at the farmer’s market.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:05:35] And in most ways, that would legally be considered employee work. This is one of those things where it’s very easy to be angry at big companies, but there are plenty of ways in which small business and nonprofits abuse this as well. So car valets are often considered contractors, though.
Chase Spross: [00:05:56] From a hotel?
Lillian Karabaic: [00:05:56] Yeah, or parking garages. Things like that.
Chase Spross: [00:06:00] I can see that.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:06:01] Nail salon workers – quite often nail salon workers- which is nail salons are actually one of the most highly affected by human trafficking of any industries.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:06:11] But in addition, nail salon workers are quite often classified as independent contractors, despite the fact that most of their supplies and everything like that are provided by their employer and short term construction workers. So quite often, short term construction workers are classified as contractors. And in that case, it can be particularly dangerous because guess what you don’t get when you are classified as a contractor?
Chase Spross: [00:06:36] I’m gonna say health care.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:06:37] Health care is one of them. But at the very simplest cuz, health care, obviously, you’re unpacking a whole can of worms area.
Chase Spross: [00:06:44] Yea yea yea For sure.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:06:44] But workers comp, so workers compensation, in the states, is the insurance scheme that pays your medical bills and some wage replacement if you’re injured on the job. Right. Or if you end up sick related to your job. So if you end up sick because your job is stressing you out. No? Or if you get cancer or blah, blah, blah- Probably not.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:07:03] But if you are a coal miner and you get coal miners, lung workers comp won’t cover you. Right. So workers comp simply does not cover you. So if you are doing a setup as a promo girl in a nightclub and some drunk guy falls on you and you end up breaking your arm. That would not be covered by workers comp.
Chase Spross: [00:07:20] Okay,.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:07:21] So the employer usually. So Social Security taxes, one thing we’ve talked about on here is if you’re self-employed, you’ve gotta plan for taxes.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:07:30] A portion of your taxes are paid for by your employer. So when I pay people as employees, as my own business, I have to pay a portion of their taxes, which is this portion of their Social Security taxes.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:07:43] You actually paying double the Social Security taxes because you pay both employer and employee, if you’re classified as a contractor.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:07:50] Fun, fun, fun facts.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:07:51] But also, any minimum wage laws don’t apply.
Chase Spross: [00:07:54] OK.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:07:55] So this has been one of the things that has really heated up is that minimum wage laws, especially in states with higher minimum wages like Oregon, Washington, California, New York- in those places often ride hailing drivers will not make what would be equal to minimum wage.
Chase Spross: [00:08:12] Right.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:08:15] And then any state mandated, sick or paid time off. So in the United States, unfortunately, we have literally no federal laws that ensure sick time or paid time off because we are not a civilized country.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:08:25] Many states and cities do have local sick time laws. We’ve instituted them in Oregon. I have never in my life been covered by those that were instituted five years ago in Oregon, because one of the exceptions is to classify workers as contractors, and then you don’t have to.
Chase Spross: [00:08:40] Circumvent it.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:08:41] Yes, exactly. And then obviously, additionally, health care is one of the things you brought up. If there’s any employer, anything that employers provide for the average employee health insurance, retirement benefits, PTO, you can just avoid paying them by classifying someone as a contractor. And some of those things are actually like it’s federally mandated that like retirement benefits are a great thing there, where if you offer a 401K- any employee that has worked the required number of hours *has* to have access to it.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:09:14] And that’s so that you can’t just find a way for the owners to like hide a bunch of money and not offer it to the employees.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:09:21] Like that- That’s why that’s the law. But those kind of tests are one of the like one of the reasons why people will classify people as contractors, because they don’t have the ability to just decide, “well, we don’t like our front desk workers, so they don’t get retirement or health care.”.
Chase Spross: [00:09:37] Okay, yea.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:09:39] So instead, you just misclassify them!
Lillian Karabaic: [00:09:40] This is a big deal right now. There is 90 million dollars pledged to fight this in a bill that is going to come out. It has been backed by Uber and Lyft.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:09:52] So it’s one of those things. Well, despite being a huge deal and possibly a landmark bill that could be replicated by other liberal states. New York is talking about doing the same thing next year. New York, as you may not know, has a 15 dollar minimum wage now for all New York City folks. And that is that affects ride hailing drivers as well. So California, New York and Alaska and Oregon previously had state regulators classifying ride hailing drivers as employees under state laws, but only for very certain purposes, like unemployment insurance.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:10:26] So, essentially they said like, oh, in the case of if you are working this amount of time, that would generally qualify you for unemployment insurance. And then suddenly Uber; Lyft decides you can’t, you know, use their app anymore. That’s one of the big things with like giving five star reviews to drivers?
Chase Spross: [00:10:43] Okay, yea.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:10:44] You know, like that they will often cut drivers off if they drop below. Point five star average or whatever?
Chase Spross: [00:10:51] Okay.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:10:51] Kind of negating.
Chase Spross: [00:10:52] As a way because a way to thin their field or whatever?
Lillian Karabaic: [00:10:56] Not just the literally if they cut if they cut you off and they don’t list you, you won’t get any rides at all. Okay. Yeah. So it’s essentially a way to fire you without firing you.
Chase Spross: [00:11:04] Yeah.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:11:04] Because You’re not technically an employee.
Chase Spross: [00:11:06] Yeah, I see.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:11:08] Whoo hoo. I just I-.
Chase Spross: [00:11:10] It sounds like a great job.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:11:12] Here’s one of the things that I like. I totally have these moments where I understand how the union and the labor movement rose up, because we’re in another realm where you’re just like, oh, this is how they screw you over.
Chase Spross: [00:11:28] Right. And well, a lot of people go to those jobs because it’s it’s something that they can get. It might be one of their only options.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:11:33] Right? Yeah, definitely. And this is just say, look, like I’m doing all of these rants about how this is, you know, an important thing and it will change things.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:11:42] There’s a lot of people that were worried about the impact that this would happen on Lyft and Uber drivers, because if they are forced to make them employees, they’re not going to just hire everybody. Right?
Lillian Karabaic: [00:11:51] Because right now, essentially, it’s if you have a car that’s new enough, it’s relatively and a clean-ish driving record. It’s relatively easy to get one of these jobs in – in rural areas right now, where there isn’t enough demand, it’s very likely that they won’t want to have people as employees.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:12:08] And it means that you might not get as many surge cars. Right?
Chase Spross: [00:12:11] Yea.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:12:12] So when an event gets out or something and transit is packed or doesn’t exist and suddenly, you know, they lure in all of the people that are Uber and Lyft drivers by offering higher prices, they’re not going to be doing that anymore, if they are classified as employees because they’re gonna have to pay this sort of minimum wage no matter what.
Chase Spross: [00:12:29] I see, yes.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:12:29] So this is I mean, it’s interesting because of the labor market has just completely changed in the past 20 years. And we’re rewriting all of the rules while we’re you know, we’re we’re building the plane while we’re flying it.
Chase Spross: [00:12:41] Yea,
Lillian Karabaic: [00:12:44] And there were a lot of drivers who like driving as the side gig that was supposedly advertised to them.
Chase Spross: [00:12:49] Right.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:12:49] Right. The oh, this is a lucrative gig. Just log in and off whenever you want. And those drivers, a lot of those drivers are worried that they would lose a lot of the flexibility if they got classified as an employee.
Chase Spross: [00:13:00] Right. Because then they might start it’s doing like mandatory number of hours or something like that.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:13:04] Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Or you you have to work the shift at this time and they’re like, oh, but I only log in on Saturdays when I’m feeling up to it, you know, whatever.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:13:13] A lot of people don’t realize what makes someone a legally an employee. And this is one of those things where the new way that gig economy work exists makes it hard to be like, oh, are you an employer or an employee?
Lillian Karabaic: [00:13:28] There is a lot of ways in which, like when that person delivers your Amazon Prime package, all that work comes directly from Amazon. They have all of these deliverables to meet for Amazon that are like on-time performance. They’re usually, I think, required to wear like a shirt that says that they’re an Amazon employee because otherwise I’m just letting random people into my apartment building, which my property manager really looks down upon.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:13:50] But it’s also some of the things that don’t apply to the way work works now. One, having working hours or shifts set by the employer. If you do, you’re probably an employee.
Chase Spross: [00:14:02] Yeah.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:14:02] You should tell them that having equipment provided to do work by the employer. So having a laptop, having facilities that you have to work at. When you find the lawyer “how to not get your independent contractors classified as employees” rules, they’re like “if you can avoid it, don’t have them work at your facility.”
Lillian Karabaic: [00:14:21] Requiring them to attend employee meetings or functions. This has happened to me a lot when I’ve been a nonprofit worker.
Chase Spross: [00:14:26] yea.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:14:27] – That has been misclassified as a contractor. I still have to attend these staff meetings and stuff, but technically I’m not an employee.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:14:35] Giving a dress code or company policy manual that they must follow. That is one of those things that is abundantly obvious in Uber, Lyft, Amazon, all of these ride hailing thing.
Chase Spross: [00:14:44] Right.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:14:46] Prohibiting them from hiring subcontractors. This is one of the really big ones. If Uber hires you to be a contractor and drive a car, technically, you could then decide to legally hire all of that workout and just have one account that you’re like, you know, you got your little brother or whatever.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:15:04] And that it’s laughable because you’re like. Of course, I don’t want that. Like someone who, like, gets in an Uber, I don’t want to know that they’ve just subcontracted out any rando. But legally, you cannot prohibit a contracted – a contractor from hiring subcontracters.
Chase Spross: [00:15:21] Okay.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:15:22] So, I mean, that’s another great example of a case where like obviously they fall into this employee category. But then in the beginning, sure, you can log in and log out whenever you want. So are you a contractor? Turns out we’re in a gray area.
Chase Spross: [00:15:35] See, I love that idea. Somebody just subcontracting out all their Uber work.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:15:40] I love the idea of like getting hired on TaskRabbit and then subcontracting out a lower people. Unfortunately, you don’t make enough.
Chase Spross: [00:15:46] Everybody’s splitting like dollars.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:15:49] Right.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:15:49] This is this is, in fact, a really big deal. And I- California is not the United States.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:15:57] And no matter how much I try to explain that to both California and the rest of the world.
Chase Spross: [00:16:01] Yea.It
Lillian Karabaic: [00:16:02] It doesn’t. It does not affect the majority of workers. However, California is our biggest economy. It would be the fifth largest economy in the world if it was its own country. So, we can’t ignore it.
Chase Spross: [00:16:12] Right.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:16:12] And one million workers will be affected by this. Well, it’s so it’s – it’s not it’s not a small thing. But that being said, it’s just like talking about health care reform and Medicaid. There are plenty of states which are not affected by the Medicaid expansion at all. And it’s hard to make sweeping statements about anything around labor law because so much of it is regulated at the state level.
Chase Spross: [00:16:34] So, yeah, yeah, I’m sure it really greatly informs how Lift is going to try and move forward or Uber is going to try to move forward.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:16:41] Well, and that’s why they’re spending so much money to try to block it, because California really fancies itself a place to test – You know, they like to be the laboratory of democracy.
Chase Spross: [00:16:50] Yeah,.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:16:51] Right.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:16:51] And they have the tax base and they have the liberal administration, in order to push forward the kind of things that would just be completely untenable in states without that, either that tax base or that liberal liberal administration.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:17:08] And they fancy themselves this test case. In general, I think it is hard to make the argument that they are really, truly testing things because there are so many things that California has that no one else has.
Chase Spross: [00:17:23] Okay.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:17:23] That don’t ever get passed down the line. Right. And there is this belief that like, well, you can just make California the exception. And it is one of the reasons why a lot of smaller businesses don’t want to hire remote employees in California, because suddenly you have this whole other list of regulations and stuff.
Chase Spross: [00:17:41] Completely Different game.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:17:42] Yeah, totally. It’s like oper- I mean, it’s kind of like the Brexit versus Europe situation right now where you’re like, well, am I operating in the EU or not operating in the EU? Like, California: It’s located in the United States of America, but it has its own an entirely different set of regulations.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:17:58] And so it’s one of those things where I hate to read too much into it as, a as as something that’s going to push forward into other states.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:18:08] I know that New York, which in many has a lot of similar characteristics to California. Not to make some sweeping generalizations, but as far as their tax base size, their diversity of the economy and the willingness to try out kind of more liberal labor policies and as well as the high cost of living reflected in in their largest cities.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:18:30] I do think that they – New York will be keeping an eye towards this.
Chase Spross: [00:18:34] Yea.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:18:34] They have passed a lot of pioneering labor legislation. So it’s really interesting. We asked last time I did a W2/1099 episode if anybody had had a conversation with their boss when they realize they’re being like inappropriately classified.
Chase Spross: [00:18:52] Yeah.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:18:52] And 1099 a contractor. And we had one person write in who had the conversation, who is a nanny who actually did it. That’s awesome.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:19:01] I’m really eager to hear if just your stories. I truly hope that if you have had that conversation, you please write in because I want to hear about it. But I love to just hear your stories of the types of jobs you’ve done, where you’ve been been classified as a contractor before and whether or not you think that’s appropriate.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:19:18] And if you heard anything and you’re like, oh, red flag, maybe I actually was an employee. I’d love to hear your thoughts, what you think about this. If you do drive or drive for one of these services or, you know, deliver for post mates, whatever. I’d be really curious to hear what your take is on it. If you do it as a side gig, if you’re kind of worried about the implications, if this was to happen in your state, if you are in California otherwise, do you think it’s coming down the pipeline from your state? Are you following it? Did you learn anything from this episode? Maybe?
Chase Spross: [00:19:51] Yeah, right.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:19:53] Did you learn anything?
Chase Spross: [00:19:54] I did. I didn’t realize that. Like I thought most contractor.
Chase Spross: [00:19:59] Work was, you know, your Lyft drivers and your postmates drivers. I didn’t think about like construction workers or janitors or people in those type of fields.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:20:08] Yeah
Chase Spross: [00:20:10] Because I imagine they’re not like buying their own mop and like, right, putting that outfit on and-
Lillian Karabaic: [00:20:15] Yep, we’re hiding it. It’s they hide in plain sight. Right. This is the thing you won’t know because there it is so like rampantly abused as a classification that you just may never know.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:20:27] You might even have people in your office with you at like if you work a regular office job, you might not even realize that there are people in there that are getting paid as 1099 contractors.
Chase Spross: [00:20:36] Yeah.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:20:37] So and I’ve worked in many an office like that.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:20:41] So I think that wraps our show for today. But we love hearing from you. So e-mail us all of your stories about independent contractors and W-2 at email@example.com and you can tweet me at @anomalily or @ohmydollar
Lillian Karabaic: [00:20:55] Reminder that we’re running a survey right now so you can check that out. Ohmydollar.com/survey/ You get cool perks. If you answer the survey, it’s easy. You should take it!
Lillian Karabaic: [00:21:05] Our Producer is Will Romey, our intro music is by Aaron Parecki, and your host and personal finance educator is me, Lillian Karabaic.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:21:12] Thank you very much for joining us this morning, Chase.
Chase Spross: [00:21:14] Thank you.
Lillian Karabaic: [00:21:16] Thanks for listening. Till next time, remember to manage your money so it doesn’t manage you.