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Radio Motherboard: Are Uber Drivers Employees or Independent Contractors?

A class action lawsuit in California seeks an answer.

by Adrianne Jeffries
Aug 21 2015, 11:00am

Uber drivers set their own hours, file taxes independently, and often own their cars. They don't get health insurance from Uber and they don't wear uniforms. And yet, Uber controls much of what they do by setting prices, handling their tips, and micromanaging them through its driver rating system. Are these drivers independent contractors, working for a strict boss? Or are they employees, entitled to benefits and covered expenses?

A law firm has filed a class action lawsuit against Uber in California on behalf of the state's drivers, alleging that the company had misclassified them as independent contractors. Uber is going to the mat to defend the status quo, arguing that the class is too large, that drivers want to be independent contractors (which isn't really material to their classification), and even trying to make itself seem more like Wal-Mart.

The case, O'Connor v. Uber, is going to stretch on for a long, long time. To make sense of it all, we spoke to Sarah Jeong, our contributing editor and resident legal expert, who has been covering this case. Then we chatted in the studio with managing editor Adrianne Jeffries (self-loathing Uber user), staff writer Kaleigh Rogers (technoinnovation optimist), and Motherboard Germany editor Max Hoppenstedt (European perspective). Ever thought about what Germans think of the name Uber? Listen to this week's Radio Motherboard to find out.