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The independent worker

There’s a lot of discussion about what the “online gig economy” will mean for traditional forms of employment. And seeing how we’re on the topic of Uber right now, I thought it would make for an interesting discussion.

Should Uber drivers, to use one example, be classified as independent contractors or should they be classified as traditional employees? There are arguments for both sides.

Seth Harris and Alan Krueger recently published a discussion paper where they argue for a solution somewhere in between the two. They call it “the independent worker.”

Here’s a snippet that illustrates the tension that currently exists for people working in this new emerging grey area:

“Independent workers typically work with intermediaries who match workers to customers. The independent worker and the intermediary have some elements of the arms-length independent business relationships that characterize “independent contractor” status, and some elements of a traditional employee-employer relationship. On the one hand, independent workers have the ability to choose when to work, and whether to work at all. They may work with multiple intermediaries simultaneously, or conduct personal tasks while they are working with an intermediary. It is thus impossible in many circumstances to attribute independent workers’ work hours to any employer. In this critical respect, independent workers are similar to independent businesses. On the other hand, the intermediary retains some control over the way independent workers perform their work, such as by setting their fees or fee caps, and they may “fire” workers by prohibiting them from using their service. In these respects, independent workers are similar to traditional employees.”

I haven’t read the full paper, but I like the idea of remaining adaptable in the face of innovation.

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