Are Independent Contractors Protected from Discrimination?

The so-called “gig economy” has shifted the modern work landscape, in some surprising and occasionally troubling ways. Although gig workers at places like Uber and Postmates have been promised freedom from the conventional 9 to 5, they can still face serious hazards on the job – and sometimes, they may even be unfairly discharged after dealing with discrimination.

Unfortunately, because gig workers are considered independent contractors rather than employees, it’s rare for a gig worker to win a wrongful termination case on the basis of discrimination. However, the law is still constantly evolving on gig worker’s rights, and it’s possible that this inequality could be fixed by future court rulings. In some instances, you may also be able to prove that you’ve been misclassified as an independent contractor, and seek compensation for your losses.

Why Aren’t Independent Contractors Protected?

Millions of American workers are now classified as independent contractors, and the gig economy shows no signs of slowing down: Surveys indicate that up to 50% of U.S. workers will be freelancing within the next 10 years. While tech giants like Uber, Lyft, and Grubhub have contributed to this effect, midmarket companies are also using independent contractors at much higher rates than before.

Flexible scheduling and autonomy are often cited as the main reasons people take on freelance work. But that same flexibility often comes at the cost of basic worker protections, which are not applied equally to contractors. For instance, the federal Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA) forbids companies from firing employees on the basis of age. However, the ADEA only prohibits this discrimination for “employees,” not contractors – and this minute detail can make all the difference in litigating your discrimination case.

What Recourse Do I Have Against Discrimination?

Although the ADEA, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act all share the same interpretation of the word “employee,” all hope is not lost. When looking at your discrimination case, the court will try to determine whether you were actually an independent contractor at all. If it can be shown that your work performance was heavily regulated and controlled by your employer, or that you weren’t truly in business for yourself, you could have a case.

There’s also a little-known law on the books that has been cited in recent race discrimination cases. Known as Section 1981, it was passed after the Civil War, and it prohibits discrimination on the basis of ethnicity in contracts. If you’ve suffered from race discrimination, this 1866 statute could provide some legal recourse.

Do you have questions about your rights as an independent contractor? At Zayas Law Firm, our experienced Hartford employment law attorney can review your situation and help you decide if you have a case for discrimination. Contact us at (888) 486-3037 to get a free consultation!

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