A rise in the popularity of what is known as the sharing economy has a profound impact on the rights of workers. The Internet has enabled citizens to exchange goods and services on a scope that previously could only be matched by large businesses. Companies like Uber, Airbnb, Lyft, Homejoy, TaskRabbit, Instacart and others provide a platform through which individuals can perform services for other individuals. They clean homes, rent apartments, pick up groceries, transport people and perform other duties through these companies, but as private individuals. The companies, therefore, are not required to provide overtime pay, insurance, workers' compensation, sick days or other benefits. The protections that have been fought for over generations to keep American workers safe are easily avoided under these arrangements.
The sharing economy is really just throwing an old problem into sharp relief. Businesses are eager to label people as independent contractors to escape the hassle of treating them with the care and respect that employees demand. The rise of companies like Uber may just be exposing a larger number of people than ever before to the "joys" of contract work.
There are quite a few questions surrounding the safety impact of a company like Uber. Transportation related deaths are a massive problem in the United States. Connecting dubiously qualified drivers with unknown riders in a hazardous work environment has obvious potential for harm. However, some thought should be spared for the rights of drivers injured in accidents, assaults, robberies and other incidents while in the course of their work through Uber. An uninsured driver with no access to workers' compensation will either be a burden on Uber or a burden on taxpayers when an injury occurs.
It's very likely that a percentage, perhaps a large percentage, of the people who enter the sharing economy don't know what they are in for. When problems inevitably arise, they may find, to their shock, they are on their own. The law should protect workers from businesses that seek to profit from their blood, sweat and tears in an unfair exchange. Even the sharing economy should share some responsibility for workers' rights.
Source: Forbes, "What Happens To Uber Drivers And Other Sharing Economy Workers Injured On The Job?," by Ellen Huet, 6 January 2015