TALLAHASSEE, FL -- Amid a legislative battle about regulating app-based transportation services, Gov. Rick Scott's administration Thursday said Uber drivers should be considered independent contractors instead of company employees.
The decision means former Uber drivers are not eligible to file for unemployment insurance in Florida. It also is part of a broader debate about how state and local governments should view the fast-growing car services that pose a major challenge to taxi and limo companies.
In a 26-page order released Thursday, state Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Jesse Panuccio offered a series of examples of the Uber business model. He wrote, for example, that drivers use their own vehicles and decide when to work.
"As a matter of common sense, it is hard to imagine many employers who would grant this level of autonomy to employees --- permitting work whenever the employee has a whim to work, demanding no particular work be done at all even if customers will go unserved, permitting just about any manner of customer interaction, permitting drivers to offer their own unfettered assessments of customers, engaging in no direct supervision, requiring only the most minimal conformity in the basic instrumentality of the job (the car), and permitting work for direct competitors,'' the order said.
But as an indication of the disagreements about such issues, California and Oregon officials have recently said Uber drivers should be considered employees of the companies.
"If a worker performs services integral to the business, it is likely the worker is an employee," said an Oct. 14 advisory opinion issued by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries. "Courts have found this factor particularly compelling. … Uber provides transportation services to its customers, services it cannot provide without its drivers. As such the driver's work is not only integral but, a necessary part of Uber's business. This indicates an employment relationship."
The Florida order stemmed from unemployment claims filed in April by former Uber drivers Darrin McGillis and Melissa Ewers. The order indicates the state Department of Revenue in May issued findings that McGillis and Ewers had been employees of Uber. That led the company to file a protest with the Department of Economic Opportunity, which handles appeals of such issues.
Panuccio's order reversed the findings of the Department of Revenue. Uber released a statement Thursday praising the order.
"This decision recognizes that Uber's partners are independent contractors who use Uber on their own terms; they control their use of the app, deciding when and for how long they drive, and whether they drive at all,'' the statement said. "Nearly 90 percent of drivers say the main reason they use Uber is because they love being their own boss."
The order was released a day after a state House subcommittee approved a bill (HB 509) that would prevent local governments from regulating Uber and other app-based transportation services. Taxi companies and local governments oppose the heavily lobbied proposal, with the taxi companies arguing that it would give app-based firms an unfair competitive advantage.