Gig Work, Side Hustles, and Workers’ Compensation: How Safe Are We?
It is 2019, and we all have a friend who is all about their side hustle. To some of us, it may seem ridiculous, but for many Americans, the side hustle isn’t just an extra form of income at this point – it is the only way they are able to stay ahead of the game and keep their head above water.
While this may seem like a reasonable thing to do,there are risks associated with those side hustles, otherwise known as “gig work.” In fact, for some individuals, gig work can be dangerous. For those of us who have never worked in the construction field, for instance, being hired as a temporary worker for a construction job may seem great, simply due to the reasonable pay that comes from many of those positions.
What do you know about workplace safety when it comes to construction? Sure, your employer may offer you some basic safety advice, or require you to wear a hard hat, but do you know the safety requirements for all of the tools you are using? Do you know what it means when someone calls out “behind you” or “coming down” or any of the other common calls you hear out on the construction site?
Some of us may, but others might not. And, given the fact that you are a temporary worker, you are far less likely to receive the kind of training to ensure your overall safety in the workplace. And, since you are a temporary worker, you may not be offered workers’ compensation, should you be injured on the job – bringing light to a certain kind of conundrum many individuals haven’t considered.
In fact, according to Eli Leher, work as we know it is changing. The gig economy is becoming a preferred method of employment for many Americans – meaning we really need to consider the impact these jobs have on our overall safety.
Defining The Gig Economy
According to Coate and Hersey, as many as 30% of all working adults do some sort of informal work – otherwise known as “side hustles” or “gig” work. However, as millennials and Generation Z are actively entering the workforce and developing skill sets, many more individuals are “self-employed” or have some form of alternative income in correlation with their primary workforce job. Therefore, it can be assumed that many individuals are bringing in income from a variety of different types of gig work.
However, defining the exact nature of what a “gig” is can be difficult, as individuals consider a wide variety of different types of jobs to be gig work. A formal definition, as published by the Congressional Research Service “The gig economy is the collection of markets that match providers to consumers on a gig (or job) basis in support of on-demand commerce.” This definition provides us with an idea of what gig work is assumed to be, from a technical and potentially legal definition.
In plain English, gig work has a wide variety of different types of definitions. One of the most popular platforms for gig work, for instance, is Uber. In reasonably sized towns, many individuals may deem it acceptable to work for Uber, either part-time or, in some cases, full time, depending on their personal situation.
All the same, there are different varieties of gig work that exist – for instance, there are companies such as InstantCart, Favor, and Wag – each of which provides different services to individuals on an on-demand basis, but also allow for scheduling work in advance, dependent upon the worker needs and client needs as well. Other websites offer gigs, such as Care.com, which allows you to schedule babysitting, pet sitting, tutoring, and other care-related services for clients.
These are the only types of gig jobs, however. Some individuals may work personal gigs – such as musicians and artists. Furthermore, contracted work – such as those jobs that are provided through temporary agencies – are also able to be considered gig work, from a professional point of view.
Effectively, any type of work that is contractual – meaning there is a one-time agreement or a person of time in which the individual will work with the company or individual – can be considered gig work. Furthermore, some self-employed individuals participate in gig work, known as the side hustle. This could range from yard services, musical lessons, babysitting, or activities such as a party or wedding design and craft making or catering events.
Therefore, the gig economy is becoming exceptionally important in our labor force – in fact, many individuals are hired to corporations and other types of large companies contractually. In many cases, temporary contracts are offered with a potential of “contract to hire” – meaning the employee is hired for the duration of a contract, at which, should their performance meet or exceed expectations, they may be offered a permanent spot within the company.
Typically, however, during this contractual period, employees are not offered many of the benefits typically included within a regular contract provided to long term, permanent employees.This leads to a serious issue that many individuals – primarily, gig jobs and employees who are contracted for a short period of time – have not considered.
What happens if I am hurt on the job? How dangerous is the work I am going to be doing? Do I have the certifications and qualifications to perform tasks that may be dangerous while on the job?
In a lot of cases, the answer is no – and there’s a reason for this, an effective loophole within the system that employers are, in essence, abusing in order to save costs on operations at the end of each day.
What is Workers’ Compensation?
It may not come as a surprise that many individuals are not entirely sure what the term “workers’ compensation” actually means – or the types of protections it provides you, as an employee. Some individuals may consider this to be a good thing – after all, it means you have never needed to use the worker’s compensation you are provided. Keeping employees in the dark about workers’ compensation, however, has allowed big-name employers to withhold these benefits from individuals who are working within a company as a gig worker, temporary worker, or another type of contractual employees.
As Field Nation explains, “Traditional workers’ compensation provides medical and wage replacement benefits for injured employees.” When an employee is injured on the job, they are often offered compensation for any medical bills accrued due to the injury, as well as compensation for missed wages while they are out for recovery. This compensation is provided outside of the employee’s usual benefits packages – for instance, an employee can not have their paid sick time docked to compensate for time taken off during leave covered by workers’ compensation.
In some jobs, workers’ compensation is not exceptionally vital. For instance, if you are working in an office, you are not nearly as likely to sustain serious injuries while on the job. However, if you work in the oil industry, or as a window cleaner, or even a dog walker, you may be at risk of becoming injured while you work – which can pose a serious threat to your wellbeing, as well as your employer’s perceived financial stability.
Which brings us to our issue: contract workers, such as gig employees, are often not required to be offered workers’ compensation, as they are not a permanent employee within the organization. As Roger Rabb explains, “Gig workers are usually considered by the employing platform to be independent contractors and as such, do not generally receive health benefits or workers’ compensation coverage.”
This poses a serious risk to the overall health and wellbeing of employees who are hired contractually, and brings to light the question – is it possible that large employers are utilizing temporary employees for dangerous work to avoid having to pay out workers’ compensation if the individual is injured while on the job?
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A Closer Look At The Reality of Gig Worker Safety
As it stands, Andrew Simpson explains that in many cases, employers have been accused of failing to provide workers’ compensation claims to individuals who are employed permanently through an organization. This is for a variety of reasons – to begin with, this will often cost the company money, cause their worker’s compensation insurance rates to increase, and it often may cause questions of the legality and overall safety of the work these companies are requiring workers to do.
Thankfully, as full-time, permanent employees within a workplace, these workers are allowed and, in many states, encouraged to speak up if they feel that their claims have been neglected. Therefore, agencies are advised of when companies may be refusing or denying claims of workers’ compensation – and this has been brought to the attention of many unions and other workforce organizations.
With the overall growth of gig work, however, there is much to be left to ask for – that is, in many cases, as previously mentioned, gig employees are not required to be provided with the same types of benefits and coverage as those who are employed, non-contracted, full time.
In some professions, this is not a problem – if you are hired to temporarily sort paperwork, one of your biggest risks may only be a paper cut. However, consider the scenario we discussed earlier – you are hired as a temporary worker for a construction company. Some tasks, of course, are basic – you know how to move things from one place to another, for instance. And laying concrete isn’t that hard, right?
But what happens when your boss tells you he needs you to scale the side of the building to install hardware? Sure, you know how to install the hardware, but it’s clearly dangerous to scale the side of the building like that. Kevin Druley explained that according to research done in 2016 by OSHA, in many cases gig jobs are very dangerous for a variety of reasons.
Whether it is a dangerous task, or potentially puts individuals into positions in which fatality rates are high for a variety of other reasons, gig jobs often present workers with situations in which they may be personally at risk – for instance, individuals who deliver items or allow individuals to ride in their car may be robbed or otherwise assaulted.
Other risks of gig jobs include the lack of training that often coincides with gig jobs. In many cases, they may be looking for relatively cheap semi-skilled labor to provide a result in a short amount of time. In these cases – such as in instances of construction – you may not be provided with the proper safety training or equipment to complete your job.
For simple tasks, this may not be a problem. In many cases, however, individuals are provided with tasks that they are in no way trained to handle from a safety viewpoint. In and of itself, this presents an issue as employees should be trained to ensure they are prepared and capable of handling the tasks at hand. In some industries, failing to provide proper safety training is a direct violation of laws – which creates a whole different slew of issues for employers.
The laws in regards to contractual workers, however, are often different – or at least blurred. This makes it difficult to determine if temporary employees are required to receive the same level of training and partake in the same safety precautions as those who are employed full time. Given the fact that these employees are not required to receive workers’ compensation should they be injured on the job, a wide variety of different issues ensues.
Unfortunately, the lines are blurred on the legality of many of these situations. Insurance professionals, such as Craig Guillot, have noted that if an employer does not carry workers’ compensation insurance and it is determined that they need to, they may be taken to court with a class-action lawsuit. And this is true – to an extent.
The lines between the expectations of workers’ compensation insurance and gig employees have been blurred for quite some time. To solve the issue, lawmakers have suggested adding a third classification of “official” workers, known as gig work, who would be required to be insured while under a company. Creating and enforcing these laws, however, is difficult, and little progress has been made.
Currently, in most states, employers are not required to provide workers’ compensation insurance for individuals who are not permanently employed within a company. With more and more employees being temporarily hired within companies, professional organizations are beginning to notice and call out problems with the current system.
Are workers truly safe when they are working contractually? This is the biggest question, currently – and there are quite a lot of grey areas serving as an answer. Many sources are suggesting that, unfortunately, contracted individuals are pressured to complete tasks they are not trained to carry out in a safe manner. Furthermore, as contract workers, they may not receive workers’ compensation while they complete these jobs.
Morally, this poses quite a lot of questions – after all, if a contracted employee is pressured to complete a task which is unsafe, and they are injured on the job, are they legally responsible for their medical bills, or is the company responsible for these bills as they requested the employee carry out tasks that were unsafe? Currently, this is the primary battle.
On the moral ground, employers are utilizing contract work as a way to avoid having to pay for workers’ compensation insurance. Furthermore, they have been accused of hiring contract workers for more dangerous jobs, as they will not be financially responsible for any injuries that are a direct result of work while on the job.
While this makes sense, it is nearly impossible to determine if this is the exact case at hand – and employers are making cases for themselves, citing employment needs, basic training measures, and insisting that they discussed the dangers of the particular job when the employee agreed to partake in the contract work. Therefore, it is difficult to determine if employers are abusing contract work as a way to have complex, potentially dangerous work completed without the financial responsibility of injuries hanging over their heads.
Many workers organizations and unions are calling for a change in these practices, however, advising that it is unfair and dangerous to require individuals who are performing work for a company to perform tasks they are unfit to perform – and, worse, in some cases, apt to be harmed while performing. Ultimately, we have to consider the situation at hand, and if it will change.
The Future For Workers’ Compensation and Non-Traditional Work
As more attention is focused on gig jobs and the future of their safety, many are calling for change. It only makes sense, according to workforce organizations, that employers are required to ensure individuals who are injured while completing potentially dangerous jobs, whether they are contracted or not. Furthermore, advocates claim that this will assist in ensuring that large companies no longer pressure contract workers to complete work that is not necessarily, safe for them to complete.
Research by individuals such as Angela Childers suggests that the gig economy is expected, within the next five years, to change the way workers’ compensation is viewed.
This could very well be a fantastic change for the workforce – it would ultimately ensure that companies are required to protect and train employees properly to perform tasks they are hired to do. Many lobbyists have fought against this, stating that contractual work should be done at the worker’s own expense and with the knowledge that it may be dangerous.
This battle continues to rage on, however – but it appears that it is slowly turning in the favor of gig employees. Many individuals in America, after all, partake in gig work. Therefore, it makes sense that these individuals would seek financial compensation should an employer put them at risk of imminent danger. Naturally, regular workers’ compensation laws would still apply – for instance, if the employee were to fail to have properly notified their employer of an incident, or ignored obvious safety precautions, they could not expect their employer to compensate for their injuries.
However, it is expected that this may change the expectations of gig workers – meaning that they are expected to be knowledgeable in safety precautions prior to taking on jobs in order to receive the jobs. There is some debate, ultimately, over whether it will require gig organizations to provide training to their employees to ensure that they are aware of the dangers and are able to identify how to take safety precautions while on the job.
All the same, it looks as though, in the future, we can expect to see change – a change that allows individuals to ultimately feel safer while in their workplace, which many find important for a variety of reasons. Many large corporations are currently attempting to keep changes like this from taking place, however, as gig work grows, accountability is not only expected but is vital to the overall success of maintaining the gig economy.
Ultimately, we must consider the pros and cons of gig work as it stands – it allows individuals freedom to choose the type of work they partake in, as well as the ability to ensure they are working on their own terms and effectively, being their own boss. However, we must also consider that in many cases, individuals who perform gig work are being subjected to unsafe practices – and this is something that has to change.
Next time you order an Uber, for instance, consider this – if the Uber driver is in a car crash with you in the car, you are protected. Their insurance will likely cover the damages. But is your Uber driver going to be able to live if they are injured and unable to drive for the next three months while they heal?
Gig work affects the worker. Att the end of the day – it is bigger than thinking of large companies having to pay more in taxes and insurance fees. It is the difference between someone being able to continue renting their apartment and being homeless. It is the difference between their ability to keep their lights on, to continue to be fed, to feel safe, to not go bankrupt because they were unable to pay their mortgage.
Therefore, it is important to consider gig work on a broader horizon, and be able to assure that individuals are not put in dangerous situations unknowingly. And, if they are put in dangerous situations and injured, that they are compensated while they heal. Think of it this way – if it were you, how would you feel? Support contracted workers, and, furthermore, support their ability to feel safe while they work – after all, it may seem as though it is a non-issue to you, but it may very well be a matter of life or death to them and their family.
It might weigh heavily on your conscious, but it is something to consider, at the end of every day – are employers responsible for the safety of contracted workers? Many individuals tend to say that yes, they are – however, you are always welcome to provide feedback and opinions on how you feel these situations should be handled. It is typically agreed upon, though, that worker safety should be our number one priority at the end of each day.
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