Uber wins right not to treat drivers as employees; paid time off isn’t salary, says court

The courts have been busy this week - ruling tht contractors are 'not' employees, while also finding paid time off is 'not' part of workers' salary.

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Mar 17, 2023

Uber et al win right ‘not’ to treat drivers as employees

It’s the case where the verdicts continue to yo-yo from one side to the other. In the latest round of court drama, it’s the ride-sharing/delivery app employers that have won out (this time anyway) – after a Californian court ruled that firms like Uber and Lyft ‘can’ continue to treat their workers as independent contractors rather than employees (as the drivers want). Despite groups claiming drivers are denied basic employee rights by being classified as independent contractors (everything from sick leave to holiday pay), a district court of appeal ruled that the proposed Proposition 22 (granting app-based transportation and delivery companies an exception to Assembly Bill 5 by classifying their drivers as independent contractors), ‘was’ constitutional. This overturns an August 2021 judgement by Frank Roesch, a superior court judge, which ruled that Proposition 22 was unconstitutional and therefore “unenforceable.” The likes of Uber, DoorDash and Lyft all saw their share price jump after this latest announcement. This reversal now preserves the independent contractor model in California, and could mean other states might follow suit.

Paid time off is not part of workers’ salary – court rules

Paid time off that is accumulated as part of a worker’s job does not comprise part of their salary, finds a federal appeals court. It paves the way, say unions, for employers to take away paid leave if salaried workers do not meet productivity quotas. A three-judge panel of the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that Bayada Home Health Care Inc did not violate federal wage law by docking salaried employees’ paid time off, or PTO, when they did not work required weekly hours. The case is deemed to be significant, because it is the first time a US appeals court has been asked to decide whether paid time off counts as part of an employee’s salary. The 3rd Circuit panel concluded that while a salary is a fixed amount of compensation, paid out at regular intervals, paid time off is a fringe benefit that has no effect on a worker’s wages and can be paid irregularly, such as when an employee leaves a company.

Papa John’s Pizza sued for firing blind employee

Pizza chain, Papa John’s Pizza, is being sued by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), for firing a new hire before his first shift had even started. Michael Barnes – who is registered blind and uses a guide dog – was initially hired its Athens, Georgia, restaurant, but managers said it needed head office approval Barnes bringing his dog with him – even though it would be kept away from both customers and food preparation activities. Papa John’s then denied Barnes’s accommodation request and fired him before he worked a single shift. According to the EEOC the conduct of Papa John’s violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), of 1990, which bans discrimination based on a disability. The EEOC is now seeking back pay, reinstatement or front pay, compensatory damages, and punitive damages for Barnes, as well as injunctive relief to prevent future discrimination. Said Marcus G. Keegan, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Atlanta District Office: “The ADA protects employees seeking reasonable accommodations involving service animals. Employers must evaluate such requests on their individual merits. They may not, as Papa John’s has done, reject such requests based on vague and unspecified ‘health and safety’ concerns.”

Biden proposes massive wage rise for federal workers

President Joe Biden has announced his intention to give federal employees the largest pay rise since 1980 – a 5.2% wage increase. If approved, the plan – due to start at the beginning of the 2024 fiscal year (October 1st) – should mean that workers will start to see their pay rise from January 2024. Despite it being the largest rise since Jimmy Carter was president, The National Treasury Employees Union has only called the increase a “solid first step,” and instead wants at least an 8.7% rise. In a statement, Tony Reardon, NTEU national president, said: “The Federal Salary Council reports that federal salaries lag their private sector counterparts by 24.09%, and an average 8.7% adjustment would go further in helping federal agencies recruit and retain the employees they need to meet their important missions.” But the non-partisan think tank, The Century Foundation, says the rise will have a beneficial impact on all working- and middle-class Americans, and will particularly support people of color, low-income people, disabled people, women and other disadvantaged groups. However, James Comer, chairman of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, criticized the move. “Now President Biden is continuing to ensure that federal workers’ pay and benefits are insulated from the price tag of inflation,” he said.

Microsoft laid off its AI ethics team

Microsoft has reportedly laid off the team responsible for ensuring its artificial intelligence technology is ethical, according to Platformer. It was recently revealed that the tech giant would be letting go of 10,000 staff, but now it is being reported that its entire ethics and society team has been axed as part of this too – leaving Microsoft without a dedicated team to ensure its AI is ethical. While it does still maintain an active ‘Office of Responsible AI’ employees argue the ethics and society team played a critical role in ensuring that the company’s responsible AI principles are actually reflected in the design of the products that ship. The ethics and society team was at its largest in 2020, when it had approximately 30 staff, including engineers, designers, and philosophers. Last October, the team was cut to roughly seven people as part of a reorganization. A now former employee is reported to have told bosses: “…what this team has always been deeply concerned about is how we impact society and the negative impacts that we’ve had. And they are significant.” Microsoft is accused of thinking more about shipping AI tools faster than considering their long-term impact.

More than half of staff think their company has a ‘pay-gap problem’

More than half of US employees (51%) think their workplace has a problem with gender pay gaps – a figure which is up 121% since 2019, according to new research. The data, revealed in beqom’s ‘Leveling the Paying Field’ report, also found that more than a third of people had found out that new hires were paid more than them. The data suggests nearly two in five (39%) of employees do not think they’re paid fairly, while more than a third (35%) think the gender pay gap has increased in the last two years. More than half of staff now admit to talking to colleagues about how much they are paid, while most employees (68%) now say they would be more willing to work at a company that discloses gender pay gaps (up 5% from 2019). Commenting on the data, Tanya Jansen, co-founder of beqom, said: ““When employers make a conscious effort to boost pay equity and provide more transparency around pay decisions with their staff and candidates, they help to build a level of trust that contributes to a feeling and reality of fair pay.” The research also found 73% of employees think widespread or national pay transparency laws would help close pay gaps.

Inventive Silicon Valley Bank staff find inventive ways to raise capital

It’s the biggest bank to fail since 2008, but staff threatened with losing their jobs are reportedly finding inventive ways to asset strip and raise finance for their own ends. According to the Daily Mail, staff are grabbing any company ‘swag’ they can get, and flogging it on eBay. Items include company branded mugs, bags, cheeseboards and even cardboard boxes (new employee welcome boxes). And they are attracting huge demand. Mugs are reportedly getting bids of more than $100 a piece, while a cardboard box had a bid for $201. One seller, advertising a company-branded insulated coffee mug, wrote in the description: “Buying this mug helps me out but also gets you a piece of history to one of the fastest banking failures in US history.” It added: “Nicks in the powder coating just tell my story of grinding, analyzing, and ultimately failing to help the bank use data to help the bank and its customers have success.” One of the more unique listings has included a ‘deal cube’ – a transparent resin acrylic cube containing a miniature version of the prospectus filed to the SEC to commemorate a public offering of 500,000 shares in the bank. SVB-branded baseball caps were also selling for upwards of $100 each. Last week SVB went insolvent and on Friday was taken over by the government following a run on its deposits and a collapse in its stock price.