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federal and state laws

A recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision may be a big win for all drivers who work for ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft. On July 27, 2020, the highest court in Pennsylvania held that a part-time Uber driver was not “self-employed,” The designation is significant because Uber has consistently argued in lawsuits across the country that drivers are independent contractors and self-employed, not employees.

By categorizing the estimated 2.6 million Uber drivers in the U.S. as being self-employed, Uber is not required to provide any federal or state benefits. In this case, however, the sole issue was whether his part-time work with Uber disqualified him from unemployment benefits because an applicant who engages in an independent business venture is not eligible for unemployment benefits. While the decision is not binding on other states, it could be a significant victory for all ride-hailing drivers as well as gig workers more broadly.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently held that an Uber Driver is not “self-employed” which could have a signficant impact on pending litigation across the country.

The case in Pennsylvania involves a laid-off behavioral specialist who started working for Uber part-time. The driver, however, was denied unemployment benefits because his part-time work with Uber was categorized as an “independent business venture.” The court, however, ruled that the driver was not self-employed because Uber had “significant control” over his work, and therefore eligible for unemployment benefits due to losing his full-time job as a behavioral specialist. The court acknowledged that drivers do have some autonomy such as setting work hours and rejecting rides, but overall, the court found that there were more significant aspects of the contract that Uber controlled. For example, Uber sets the rate for services, drivers cannot establish work relationships with passengers, and drivers cannot subcontract their work.

While the decision is good news for drivers, the court stopped short of saying the decision should be applied broadly because “individual decisions must be made in specific cases based upon the unique facts presented in each circumstance.” Similarly, the court did not hold that the driver was an “employee” of Uber, which is the question at the core of lawsuits across the country.

Currently, under federal and state laws, independent contractors are generally not eligible for certain employee benefits such as overtime pay, meal/rest breaks, and paid sick time. While that question remains unsettled, litigation is pending in California and around the world and millions of drivers wait anxiously for a favorable decision that would provide them with the benefits and protection they deserve under federal and state law.

FREE CONSULTATION

Srourian Law Firm, with locations in Los Angeles, Westwood, Woodland Hills, and Orange County is experienced in all aspects of employment law including the representation of ride-hailing drivers and have aggressively represented employees in Los Angeles, Hollywood, Santa Monica, Orange, Irvine, Anaheim, Santa Ana, Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Fullerton, Tustin, Mission Viejo, San Clemente, Garden Grove, Laguna Niguel, Brea, Fountain Valley, Aliso Viejo, Yorba Linda, Westminster, Laguna Hills, Cypress, and La Habra.

If you or someone you know suffered employment violations as a ride-hailing driver, you may have certain employee rights under state and federal law, and may be entitled to compensation as a part of the class action lawsuit. Please contact us to speak with one of our lawyers for a free consultation.


The CARES Act provides expanded unemployment benefits to eligible workers.

As the country continues to struggle with the challenges due to COVID-19, labor laws have been adapting to the pandemic, and employees must be aware of their rights. One area that has been significantly impacted by COVID-19 is the laws regarding unemployment benefits. The federal and state laws that govern unemployment benefits have always been complicated, and are especially difficult to understand now with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) that was enacted in March 2020. CARES expanded weekly unemployment benefits by as much as $600 a week to eligible workers and have proven to be vital to many families during the pandemic. While there have been a myriad of issues and concerns regarding CARES, there is no denying that to many unemployed workers relied on the additional funds as the nation’s unemployment rate sky-rocketed. Moreover, many states were overwhelmed with the volume of applications, and benefits were delayed.

While it is uncertain whether the CARES Act will be extended, the federal government provided some clarification on July 22, 2020.  For example, a worker may refuse to accept a job offer because the job is unsafe and continue to collect the additional financial benefits provided under CARES. The states, however, will determine what is considered to be safe work conditions, and if a state determines the job or work conditions are not “suitable,” then the worker may receive the expanded unemployment benefits under CARES. Most states already had suitable work place provisions in place prior to COVID-19, and the general criteria is whether the work unreasonably exposes the worker to unsuitable safety risks. Labor laws have always guaranteed a safe work environment, which is particularly important during a pandemic. Notably, a worker cannot refuse a job offer and seek expanded unemployment benefits due to a general fear of COVID-19.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the state may also determine that a job is unsuitable if a worker refuses the job due to virus-related reasons such as increased risk of COVID-19 due to an underlying medical condition. The state may also determine a job is unsuitable if a worker claims “good cause,” although the federal government has not specifically defined what is considered to be “good cause” which means that states must decide that issue. Fortunately, workers in California benefit from some of the country’s strongest state labor law protections, and this is one example of how an experienced labor law attorney will be able to argue your case by understanding state laws to protect your rights when federal law is not clear.

The federal government also clarified that some out-of-work employees are not eligible for CARES benefits depending on what caused the loss of the job. For example, if a worker is unemployed due to a reason not related to COVID-19, that worker is not eligible for expanded benefits even if jobs are not available due to COVID-19 related circumstances. The reason for this is because CARES was enacted to assist workers who faced unemployment specifically due to the pandemic, and is not broad enough to include workers who did not lose their jobs due to reasons unrelated to COVID-19. Fortunately, those workers may still be eligible for regular unemployment benefits.  

Prior to COVID-19, workers who quit their jobs without “good cause” were generally not eligible for unemployment benefits. However, under the CARES Act, certain reasons related to COVID-19 would allow a worker to qualify for expanded unemployment benefits under CARES. For example, a worker who quits a job because of mandatory quarantine, or the need to provide care to a family member with COVID-19 could be considered “good cause” for the purposes of CARES benefits.

While the federal government continues to debate whether to extend benefits under the CARES Act or perhaps craft new legislation, the states may decide to adopt new policies regarding eligibility in the meantime. However, since unemployment benefits are a hybrid of federal and state law, the states must adhere to federal law and provide at least the minimum benefits afforded under federal laws. Also, as more states work towards re-opening and more businesses are hiring, states may become stricter in determining eligibility for unemployment benefits. As we have learned, during a pandemic, it is important to be informed and be ready to take full advantage of any benefits you are eligible for. Plan ahead and consult an experienced labor law attorney so you will have an advocate that will not only understand the quickly changing laws and benefits, but will be able to guide you and protect your rights during these uncertain times.

FREE CONSULTATION

Srourian Law Firm, with locations in Los Angeles, Westwood, Woodland Hills, and Orange County is experienced in all aspects of employment law including unemployment benefits and have aggressively represented employees in Los Angeles, Hollywood, Santa Monica, Orange, Irvine, Anaheim, Santa Ana, Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Fullerton, Tustin, Mission Viejo, San Clemente, Garden Grove, Laguna Niguel, Brea, Fountain Valley, Aliso Viejo, Yorba Linda, Westminster, Laguna Hills, Cypress, and La Habra.

If you or someone you know suffered employment violations involving unemployment benefits, you may have certain employee rights under state and federal law, and may be entitled to compensation as a part of the class action lawsuit. Please contact us to speak with one of our lawyers for a free consultation.


FAQs on Whistleblowers

Reporting your company or supervisor for violating the law can be frightening. However, reporting workplace violations are important to ensure the rights of all employees, and in some cases protect the health and safety of employees, the public and the environment. Fortunately, federal and state laws protect employees who report violations.  

Q: What is a whistleblower?

The term “whistleblower” is used to describe an employee who reports an employer for violating the law. The violation could be an illegal act taken by the employer against the whistleblower, or a general violation with a wider impact. For example, an employee who reports an incident of sexual harassment at work would be a whistleblower. Similarly, an employee who reports an employer for violating pollution laws would also be a whistleblower.

Q: Are whistleblowers protected?

Yes. There are many federal and state laws enacted specifically to protect whistleblowers. In addition to protection from retaliation, whistleblowers can also file a lawsuit against the employer if there is retaliation for reporting the violation of the law. In other words, an employee cannot retaliate (or punish) an employee for being a whistleblower.

Federal law protection for whistleblowers require a “good-faith” belief that a violation of the law occurred. Like many legal terms, it is difficult to define “good-faith,” but courts have generally held that a good-faith belief be a combination of the whistleblower’s subjective opinion as well as an objective basis for the violation. An experienced labor law attorney can discuss the facts of your case and advise you on how to proceed with an allegation against your employer and ensure that your rights are protected under Federal law.

Whistleblowers are also protected under state law, and California labor laws provide significant protection to employees, and are considered among the strongest in the country. For example, under the California Labor Code, an employer cannot retaliate against a whistleblower if the employee “reasonably” believes a violation has occurred which is considered a lower burden than the federal law requiring a good faith belief. Moreover, the California whistleblower is protected even if the employer is cleared of any wrong-doing. 

Q: What is considered whistleblower retaliation?

A: Whistleblower retaliation includes a variety of actions such as:

• wrongful termination;

• demotion;

• failure to promote when promotion is merited;

• denying opportunity for training or professional development;

• blacklisting;

• reducing pay or hours;

• reassignment to less desirable task;

• intimidation;

• denying access to resources necessary to perform work duties; and

• making any threat including a threat to report non-citizen employee to ICE or immigration.

Under California law, an employee is protected from workplace retaliation even if the employee did not actually make a whistleblowing report. In other words, employers cannot retaliate against an employee because they believe the employee is a whistleblower.

Q: What can I do if my employer retaliates against me for being a whistleblower?

A: If you believe you are the victim of unlawful labor practices, or that your employer is violating the law or regulations, you have the right to file a complaint without fear of retaliation. For example, if you are the victim of sexual harassment, you have the legal right to file a formal complaint against your employer through the regular channels proscribed in the employee handbook or your employment contract. Similarly, if the wrongful action by your employer is a workplace safety violation or an environmental violation, you have the right to file a complaint to an appropriate governmental agency such as OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) or the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and not fear retaliation.

After reporting the violation, an investigation should be conducted, and your rights as a whistleblower protect you from workplace retaliation. However, if your employer does retaliate, you can file a lawsuit against your employer for whistleblower retaliation. If you prevail, you may be entitled to compensation for lost wages and benefits, physical pain, mental suffering, loss of career opportunities, punitive damages, legal costs and attorney’s fees.

There are strict deadlines on retaliation claims, so be sure to act promptly after the retaliation and speak to an experienced labor law attorney to ensure your rights are protected.

FREE CONSULTATION

Srourian Law Firm, with locations in Los Angeles, Westwood, Woodland Hills, and Orange County is experienced in all aspects of employment law including whistleblower retaliation, and have aggressively represented employees in Los Angeles, Hollywood, Santa Monica, Orange, Irvine, Anaheim, Santa Ana, Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Fullerton, Tustin, Mission Viejo, San Clemente, Garden Grove, Laguna Niguel, Brea, Fountain Valley, Aliso Viejo, Yorba Linda, Westminster, Laguna Hills, Cypress, and La Habra.

If you or someone you know suffered employment violations due to whistleblower retliation, you may have certain employee rights under state and federal law, and may be entitled to compensation as a part of the class action lawsuit. Please contact us to speak with one of our lawyers for a free consultation.


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