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In a sharing economy, workers struggle to collect compensation

In this blog, we often discuss the fact that workers across Ohio generally have the option of pursuing employer-paid workers' compensation benefits if they suffer an on-the-job injury or illness. However, one critical exception to this is when a worker is categorized as an independent contractor.

According to the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation, independent contractors in this state are responsible for securing their own coverage and typically cannot collect workers' compensation from another company. However, the line between employee and independent contractor is getting considerably blurred as we move into a sharing economy.

The sharing economy concept has been growing considerably in recent years. If you have used Uber in Ohio, you are participating in this shared economy. Companies like Uber use independent contractors to carry out jobs all across the country, from taxi services to grocery shopping.

The people who work as drivers, travel hosts or shoppers for companies including Uber, Lyft, Airbnb or Instacart are considered independent contractors, and not employees of the peer-to-peer companies. Because of this, they are often ineligible to receive benefits including workers' compensation.

However, this trend toward collaborative consumption has led to growing concern for people working in these capacities. Just like an employee in any other position, people working for sharing economy companies can suffer a work-related injury. They can be hurt in an assault, car accident or other incident stemming from the performance of their job. But because they are considered independent contractors, they are often unable to collect workers' compensation.

In some cases so far, these workers have been able to successfully argue that they are, in fact, employees and not independent contractors and can pursue compensation that way. However, this is not a realistic option for every worker in this difficult situation.

It is unknown if the current workers' compensation system will see restructuring to allow for the changes in the changing economy. Until and unless it is, independent contractors who are injured on the job should speak with an attorney to understand their options for pursuing workers' compensation or a personal injury lawsuit.

Source: Forbes, "What Happens To Uber Drivers And Other Sharing Economy Workers Injured On The Job?" Ellen Huet, Jan. 6, 2015

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