In a pivotal win for gig workers on Thursday, the New York State Court of Appeals supported a previous state ruling that Postmates workers should be considered employees, and thus eligible for unemployment insurance. While the gig economy’s precarious nature has come under fire in recent years, the covid-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the hazardous conditions this workforce faces with few, if any, legal protections or job security.
That’s because Postmates, along with other major gig economy players such as Uber and Lyft, frequently lean on the argument that their workers are independent contractors to avoid paying for the types of benefits legally required for employees. Thanks to this ruling, though, Postmates must now pay into the state’s Unemployment Insurance Fund for each of their workers.
“Today’s decision is a huge victory for thousands of gig workers across New York,” said Attorney General Letitia James per a press release. “The courts have solidified what we all have known for a while — delivery drivers are employees and are entitled to the same unemployment benefits other employees can obtain.”
The state’s Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board previously sided with Luis Vega, a former Postmates courier, that he should have been granted unemployment insurance benefits after begin fired. The Court of Appeals upheld this, arguing that Postmates “dominates the significant aspects of its couriers’ work by dictating to which customers they can deliver, where to deliver the requested items, effectively limiting the time frame for delivery and controlling all aspects of pricing and payment.” That far exceeds the “incidental control” Postmates claimed it held over its couriers.
Seeming to support this idea that its couriers are more than just independent contractors, Postmates rolled out a healthcare fund for its workforce earlier this month to help pay for doctor’s visits and other medical expenses in the wake of the outbreak. Due to the public-facing nature of their jobs, drivers, couriers, and other gig economy workers have remained among the most at risk for potentially contracting and spreading the novel coronavirus—all while their precarious financial situations leave many of them unable to miss out on work.
“As the nation battles the spread of the coronavirus and more and more employees are laid off, Postmates drivers should know they have the same safety net millions of others in New York have today,” James continued.