March 1, 2021

A Decision of Interest a look back

A Court of Appeals decision from March 26th, 2020 on the issue of who is an' employee' in an Unemployment Insurance setting, deserves attention. The question was whether the courier was an independent contractor as opposed to an employee. In this case, the Court held the courier was an employee. This case has implications for smart ride applications UBER LYFT etc. "Here, there is substantial evidence in the record to support the Board's determination that Postmates exercised control over its couriers sufficient to render them employees rather than independent contractors operating their own businesses. The company is operated through Postmates' digital platform, accessed via a smartphone app, which connects customers to Postmates couriers, without whom the company could not operate. While couriers decide when to log into the Postmates' app and accept delivery jobs, the company controls the assignment of deliveries by determining which couriers have access to possible delivery jobs. Postmates informs couriers where requested goods are to be delivered only after a courier has accepted the assignment. Customers cannot request that the job be performed by a particular worker. In the event, a courier becomes unavailable after accepting a job, Postmates-not the courier-finds a replacement. Although Postmates does not dictate the exact routes couriers must take between the pick-up and delivery locations, the company tracks courier location during deliveries in real-time on the omnipresent app, providing customers an estimated time of arrival for their deliveries. The couriers' compensation, which the company unilaterally fixes, and the couriers have no ability to negotiate, are paid to the couriers by Postmates. Postmates, not its couriers, bears the loss when customers do not pay. Because the total fee charged by Postmates is based solely on the distance of the delivery and couriers are not given that information in advance, they are unable to determine their share until after accepting a job. Further, Postmates unilaterally sets the delivery fees, for which it bills the customers directly through the app. Couriers receive a company-sponsored "PEX" card which they may use to purchase the customers' requested items, when necessary. Postmates handles all customer complaints and, in some circumstances, retains liability to the customer for incorrect or damaged deliveries. Postmates exercises more than "incidental control" over its couriers-low-paid workers performing unskilled labor who possess limited discretion over how to do their jobs. That the couriers retain some independence to choose their work schedule and the delivery route does not mean that they have actual control over their work or the service Postmates provides its customers; indeed, there is substantial evidence for the Board's conclusion 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 the delivery and controlling all aspects of pricing and payment. Although the operative technology has changed in the interim decades, this case is indistinguishable from Matter of Rivera, where we held that substantial evidence supported the Board's conclusion that a similar delivery person was an employee of the delivery company-even though he set his own delivery routes and did not have a set work schedule but called the company's dispatcher whenever he wished to engage in work, accepting only the jobs he desired (see Matter of Rivera [State Line Delivery Serv. - Roberts], 69 NY2d 679 [1986], cert denied 481 US 1049 [1987]; see also Matter of Di Martino [Buffalo Courier Express Co. - Ross], 59 NY2d 638 [1983])."
Read the decision here.

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