Alex Kirven


Under the current regime of employment and labor laws, coverage is determined on the basis of whether a given worker is an employee as opposed to an independent contractor. These laws contain inadequate definitions of "employee," leaving it up to the court system and administrative agencies to define the term. The current tests that they use fail to capture the realities of the gig economy, a system that purports to promote greater worker freedom through the fragmentation of work assignments into smaller tasks or gigs. The gig economy has offered consumers lower prices and has given workers greater autonomy in choosing when to work. But if you take a look under the hood, there are problems within the gig economy. Workers complain about their lack of control over their work lives and workplace decisions, as well as their lack of economic opportunity. Indeed, within the gig economy, workers are subject to invisible yet powerful methods of supervision and control. These methods of control make it difficult for courts to find comparisons between the gig economy and more traditional work relationships.

This Comment examines the gig economy, the factors behind its success, and the issues for workers that have followed. It then makes the argument that, if measures are not taken to reform existing employment and labor laws, gig economy workers, regardless of an individual's education level, could endure the same problems that graduate assistants at American universities currently face: dwindling economic opportunity and workplace isolation.

This Comment then presents some current proposals for creating a new regime of employment and labor laws for the gig economy. This new regime of laws is going to require its own test that better reflects how companies like Uber and Lyft control, supervise, and manage their workforce in ways both new and old. Accordingly, this Comment ends by proposing a two-part test that looks at (1) the kind of service the worker is providing and (2) whether the employer is economically dependent on the service that the workers in question are providing.