Imagine a plumber who has just received a call from a potential customer who needs work done immediately. The plumber drives over to meet a potential customer with his tools, ready to work. When he arrives, the customer realizes that the plumber is Muslim, and refuses to hire him because of his religion. Because the plumber is an independent contractor, he may have no legal recourse.
Now imagine a rideshare driver. She is frequently sexually harassed by customers, and has made the rideshare company aware of the situation, but they have done nothing. Yet the rideshare company has misclassified the driver as an independent contractor, even though she should be considered an employee. The company’s misclassification creates additional hurdles to pursuing a sexual harassment claim, potentially enabling the rideshare company to skirt its legal obligations.
As the way we work continues to evolve, the number of people working in ways that do not fit within traditional employer/employee frameworks is likely to grow. Yet the leading federal employment antidiscrimination law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, does not apply to independent contractors. This disparity in coverage has a dual impact, leaving true independent contractors without needed protections and emboldening employers to misclassify employees to avoid legal responsibility for discrimination.
Several states have stepped up to—at least partially—fill this gap, though protections for independent contractors remain troublingly sparse.
Our new analysis provides an overview of state antidiscrimination protections for independent contractors across the country. This information was identified through a 50-state survey of statutory text of state-level anti-discrimination laws and of the case law interpreting those laws as applied to independent contractors and other non-employees. We identify eleven states that provide at least some clear protections against discrimination for independent contractors. These states can offer lessons and models for further research and policy development at the local, state, and federal level.
Building the future of work we need means providing protection against discrimination for independent contractors. It is time for more states and cities and the federal government to ensure that all workers, regardless of classification, have the protections they need.