On Thursday, California’s District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that Grubhub drivers are not considered employees, but contractors. As a result, food delivery workers do not qualify for worker’s compensation, overtime, minimum wage, or other employee benefits. This case is the first one to rule on the legal relationship between contractors and the digital platforms they are related to.
Raef Lawson, a former Grubhub driver, is the one who brought this case to California court. Lawson is a part-time actor in Los Angeles who drove for Grubhub for four months, starting in 2015.
He began driving for Grubhub because he liked the flexibility of the hours—he could drive for the company and still accommodate his acting schedule. However, Grubhub’s policy that reserves certain higher-earning slots for faster, higher-rated drivers, is essentially assigning workers to certain shifts. Lawson argued that this behavior made him a Grubhub employee rather than a contractor, because Grubhub was acting as a boss by controlling his work.
Grubhub countered that the company is not a traditional employer because it simply connects customers, restaurants, and drivers. The judge ruled that Lawson had control over how he made his deliveries, including his own hours and dress code.
This ruling is the first time a gig economy contractor has not passed the Borello test at trial. The Borello test is a common-law standard in California, first established by a case heard in the state Supreme Court in 1989. The test is a question: whether or not the person, or the employer, is controlling how the work is done. It also considers whether the work performed is part of the company’s regular business, if it requires a special skill, and whether or not it can be performed without the participation of the employer.
Lawson plans to appeal this case. If he is successful, food delivery workers and drivers will be able to be considered employees, rather than deliverypeople, and will earn important employee benefits.