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California law tries to help independent contractors, but what’s really happening?

(BUSINESS NEWS) California is trying to make Uber and Lyft turn their independent contractors into employees, but what does this mean for the state’s freelancers?

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In a serious blow to freelancers across the state, California has recently made a move to force Uber and Lyft — the popular rideshare companies that act as an alternative to taxicabs — to recognize their drivers as employees. As it stands, California is the country’s biggest market for these two industries, and these new measures are calling into question the future of the state’s gig economy.

Back in January, California introduced a new bill (the controversial AB-5), which made it harder for companies like Uber and Lyft (as well as other courier-type businesses, such as DoorDash and Grubhub) to categorize their drivers as independent contractors. The bill arose out of protests from these drivers, who are not given certain privileges that waged employees receive. Their demands included healthcare, overtime, and unemployment…all things that are fairly standard for employees, but not available to independent contractors.

Unfortunately, this bill not only didn’t accomplish what it had set out to do, but it also completely devastated the freelance industry in California. Immediately gig workers and independent contractors across the state found their employment status called into question, with many out-of-state companies firing their freelancers out of fears that they’d have to categorize them as employees, as well. Other industries in the state released a number of their independent contractors, making the remaining ones work twice as hard to pick up the slack from fallout left behind by this bill.

While AB-5 still hasn’t taken its final form (and already amendments to this bill have been made to reflect the feedback from the state’s independent contractors), that hasn’t stopped Uber and Lyft from pushing back on it. In response to this new measure, they’re trying to introduce their own bill, citing that it would better serve the needs of their drivers. In a statement, Uber noted that their drivers prefer the independence afforded to them by their contractor status, and if this bill passed, some 158,000 drivers would lose their jobs.

Proponents of the bill, on the other hand, cite the potential benefits of it. They remark that passing it can help increase efficiency in the major cities, reduce traffic congestion, and while it can possibly lead to higher prices on these rideshare apps, it may also help dramatically decrease pollution, as well.

Both Lyft and Uber have rallied together to present their own ballot initiative, bringing their own money (to the tune of some $90 million) to the table to counter this measure. Instead of forcing these companies to turn their drivers into employees, they argue that the measure should be voted upon by constituents. These new policies should help appeal to the displaced drivers, providing them with benefits such as a minimum of 120% of minimum wage, an added $0.30 per mile for gas and wear and tear, automobile and liability insurance, and protection against discrimination.

As far as the existing freelancers and independent contractors in California, the jury is still out. Many of them have been left without a means to earn an income and are currently struggling in today’s coronavirus-impacted economy to find a source of sustainable income. Many companies are too anxious to take on the risk of accidentally finding themselves with an employee on their hands, making it all the more difficult for these freelancers to secure work.

If California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s move to force the state to classify these gig workers as employees actually goes through, it will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on the state’s freelancers, gig workers, and independent contractors. It’s too early to tell what this impact will be, though. Perhaps it will be better for the freelancers in the state. It’s evident that many of them do want this bill to pass, but is bypassing a vote and moving directly to legislation the ideal move? Sadly, for the number of freelancers who want to retain their autonomy, their voices have ultimately been drowned out by the more vocal dissenters.

Karyl is a Southern transplant, now living on the Central Coast with her husband. She's proud to belong to two very handsome cats, both of which have made it very clear as to where she ranks on the social hierarchy. When she's not working as an optician, you can either find her chipping away at her next science-fiction novel or training for an upcoming race. She holds an AAT in Psychology, which is just a fancy way of saying that she likes poking around inside people's brains. She's very socially awkward and has no idea how to describe herself, which is why this bio is just as dorky and weird as she is.

Business News

Missing office culture while working remotely? This tool tries to recreate it

(BUSINESS NEWS) This startup just released new software to help you reproduce the best parts of in-person office interactions while you work from home.

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Loop Team product page, trying to create an office culture experience remotely.

Are you over working from home? Feeling disconnected from your co-workers? Well look no further: The startup Loop Team just released a tool that reproduces the office culture experience virtually.

“We’ve looked at a lot of the interactions that happen when you’re physically in an office — the visual communication, the background conversations, the hallway chatter,” said Loop Team’s founder and CEO Raj Singh in an interview with TechCrunch. “[W]e built an experience that effectively is a virtual office. And so it tries to represent the best parts of what a physical office experience might be like, but in a virtual form.”

Singh’s company, founded pre-COVID, is posed as a solution to feeling “out of the loop” while working remotely. During the pandemic, where virtually all of us are working from home, this technology is needed more than ever.

How it works is by essentially recreating an office experience on a virtual platform. Somewhere between Zoom and Slack with some added features, Loop Team lets you know who’s free to chat, who’s in meetings, and allows you to have private discussions using audio, video, and screen share. It’s ideal for working on projects together.

Loop’s layout is unique in the sense that it is designed to show you conversations in a clear, direct way – exposing relevant items and hiding the rest. Also, employees who miss meetings have the ability to review what they missed, making it perfect for companies that hire across time zones.

The platform was made available December 1st free of charge, but Singh is hoping to introduce a paid version next year. Pricing will likely reflect team size and should remain free for teams of 10 or less.

I’m a big fan of software that allows you to feel closer and more connected to your co-workers. Do I think anything will ever compare to a true, in-person office experience? Definitely not. That being said, I value this kind of progress, especially since I don’t think office culture en mass will make a return any time soon, regardless of vaccinations.

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Business News

MIT report reveals serious flaws in US unemployment system

(BUSINESS NEWS) In the wake of COVID-19, the US unemployment system is floundering to cover all who need the aid but it comes with serious flaws.

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Stressed couple discussing options during unemployment in dimly lit room.

Last week alone, nearly 1 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits. Now that it’s urgently needed, this safety net is full of holes, leaving many Americans in freefall.

A newspaper from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has highlighted several of the critical weaknesses in our country’s unemployment social safety net.

The report outlines how benefits fall short in three major ways: Duration, eligibility, and payment amounts.

The historical purpose of the benefits system was to replace half of lost wages for 6 months while they looked for another job. (The MIT paper even suggests that a more appropriate “replacement rate” would be higher than that.)

As of 2018, unemployment payments only cover Americans for one-third of their lost wages on average.

The income caps for these benefits have stayed fixed while wages have increased over time. That’s bad enough without considering that wages haven’t nearly kept up with worker productivity in the US, meaning those caps haven’t kept up with the real worth of those workers at all.

Compared to other developed nations, the US has lagged behind in public benefits since well before the pandemic.

In 2014, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development compared the duration of unemployment payments around the world. Out of 34 developed countries, the US ranked 33rd— offering less than every country on the list but Hungary.

To quote the research brief for the paper: “Even aside from changes driven by technology and trade, employers’ increasing reliance on contract workers and on-demand scheduling rather than on permanent employees who work predictable schedules has added to the precariousness of many workers’ jobs.”

And those economically vulnerable groups who need the support most are more likely to have jobs that aren’t covered under federal unemployment eligibility.

This includes gig workers (thanks to prop 22), part time workers, and the self employed: People often work these jobs due to constraints like parenthood or disability.

The CARES Act, which passed in April, temporarily allowed certain groups who would usually be ineligible, like the self employed (who are poised to grow in numbers as the job shortage persists) to collect unemployment benefits.

But CARES and HEROES are going to end in December, taking the extensions to unemployment, the eviction moratorium and the COVID sick leave requirements with them.

And instead of extending them, Congress may soon be looking to cannibalize those programs and their unused funds for another round of corporate stimulus spending.

But if the coronavirus relief acts are allowed to expire, nearly 14 million Americans will lose the aid that they provide.

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Business News

Tis the season for employment scams – here’s what to look out for

(BUSINESS NEWS) Fueled even further by COVID unemployment numbers, seasonal employment scams are back on the menu. Here’s how you can avoid them.

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A serious man considers a clipboard in potential employment scams.

With the sheer amount of desperation people are feeling these days, it’s only fitting that employment scams would see a resurgence this holiday season. Thanks to the Better Business Bureau, there are some clear warning signs that can help you spot and avoid seasonal scams this year.

The typical crux of any employment scam revolves around a prospective employee’s willingness to pay for something upfront, be it training or some other kind of quasi-justifiable item (e.g., a uniform). However, other iterations of the scam actually involve an “employer” overpaying for something at the onset—albeit with a fake check—and then asking the recipient to wire “back” the extra money.

Either way, these scams can leave you jobless and with less money than you initially had, so here are some things for which you should watch out.

Firstly, employers shouldn’t ever charge you before hiring you. Some industries do require employees to make small purchases on their own dime (i.e., the aforementioned uniform), but payroll will usually deduct the cost of these materials from the employee’s first paycheck—not require payment upfront.

As a general rule, it’s probably best to avoid companies that charge you at all. Aramark, for example, is known for requiring employees to buy company clothes—and they’re no peach to work with. But desperate times may warrant an exception in this regard.

It’s also to your benefit to avoid postings that boast an “interview-free” experience. Put simply, no one is hiring sans an interview unless it’s nepotism or a scam. If you aren’t related to the poster, that doesn’t leave much up for interpretation. Similarly, advertising a large sum of money for disproportionately low amounts of work is a pretty big warning sign–again, in this economy, people aren’t shelling out for packing or wrapping jobs.

Finally, watch out for jobs that ask for a work sample before hiring. While this is common for internships, most entry-level positions aren’t going to require you to complete a project for free before determining whether or not you’re good for the job. At best, this is a tactic to get free work from you; at worst, your application information can be stolen.

It’s sad to think that people would stoop to the level of scamming others amidst the dumpster fire of a year it’s been, but if you avoid these red flags, you should be able to keep yourself safe during this holiday season.

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