State sues Uber, Lyft over driver misclassification as independent contractors

The Massachusetts attorney general is suing Uber and Lyft, claiming the ride-hailing companies are misclassifying drivers as independent contractors in violation of a state law that establishes them as employees.

As independent contractors, the roughly 200,000 drivers in the state don’t have the right to minimum wage, overtime, paid sick time, unemployment insurance, and other worker protections that employees are entitled to. Massachusetts law states that workers whose tasks are directed by the company, who are not engaged in an independently established business, and who perform jobs that are part of the company’s regular course of business are employees, not contractors.

“Uber and Lyft have gotten a free ride for far too long,” Attorney General Maura Healey said during a press conference Tuesday announcing the lawsuit, filed in Suffolk Superior Court. “Drivers provide a service that is essential to Uber and Lyft’s core business. … “Without their drivers, Uber and Lyft as we know them wouldn’t exist.”

The ride-hailing companies are also being sued for misclassifying drivers by the state of California, where a law similar to the one in Massachusetts recently went into effect. The companies have also been involved in private lawsuits over misclassifying workers, including an ongoing case in Massachusetts. Uber and Lyft have previously said that these laws don’t apply to them because the company’s main business is technology, not driving passengers.

Felipe Martinez, chairman of Boston Independent Drivers Guild, said at the press conference that driving had become a “life or death” occupation during the coronavirus pandemic, which has shone a light on the need for employee protections. Drivers could keep working, risking their and their families’ health, or stay home and lose income, he said.

“Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been devastating for Massachusetts rideshare drivers and our families, we have continued to fight for our rights and for relief during this crisis,” he said in a statement. “Now we will build on today’s victory to demand the back pay we are owed from Uber and Lyft.”

In response to the Massachusetts lawsuit, Uber said most drivers oppose being classified as employees, noting a survey by the Rideshare Guy blog that found that 71 percent of drivers want to be independent contractors.

“At a time when Massachusetts’ economy is in crisis with a record 16 percent unemployment rate, we need to make it easier, not harder, for people to quickly start earning an income,” Uber said in a statement. “We will contest this action in court, as it flies in the face of what the vast majority of drivers want: to work independently. We stand ready to work with the state to modernize our laws, so that independent workers receive new protections while maintaining the flexibility they prefer.”

Lyft said that if it is forced to reclassify drivers as employees, drivers shouldn’t assume that they would be hired as employees, or that they would be able to drive whenever they want. Flexible schedules are vital to drivers, Lyft said, many of whom have other full-time jobs. Other drivers have lost their jobs during the pandemic and rely on the extra income.

“Drivers don’t want this — 89 percent of Massachusetts Lyft drivers drive fewer than 20 hours per week and choose to drive rideshare precisely because of the independence it gives them to make money in their spare time,” the company said in a statement. “Across the country, drivers have said they want to remain independent contractors over employment by a 4 to 1 margin.”

Katie Johnston can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.

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