Uber has fought hard to ensure that its drivers are independent contractors as part of its business model.
Usually, the fight takes place in a lawsuit about overtime and employee benefits. The company will pay a premium to settle cases so long as it can keep drivers going as independent contractors and not as employees.
However, another, uglier "employee v. independent contractor" battle has been working its way to the center of the ring. Are Uber drivers entitled to protections as employees against sexual harassment?
The answer is: don't bet on it.
According to reports, the company is winding down an investigation into sexual harassment at the company's corporate headquarters in San Francisco. The company has been reeling from claims by Susan Fowler that she tolerated a culture of sexual harassment and discrimination there from day one.
"On my first official day rotating on the team, my new manager sent me a string of messages over company chat," she said. Fowler said the manager claimed he was in an open relationship, and that he was looking for partners.
"It was clear that he was trying to get me to have sex with him, and it was so clearly out of line that I immediately took screenshots of these chat messages and reported him to HR," she said.
While the company prepares to issue a report, it apparently won't include consideration of drivers' complaints.
Rachel Galindo, an Uber driver in Los Angeles, said she also faced sexual harassment since her first day on the job. A transsexual who faced discrimination in her last job, she thought it would be different working as her own boss.
"How much for a BJ?" she said passengers asked. Another passenger repeatedly called her "It."
Galindo said she complained to Uber, but to no avail. She said it has been three years and the company has responded only with generic email.
No doubt, it will take even longer for Uber to accept responsibility for sexual harassment of its drivers. The company has contended everywhere that they are independent contractors, and it appears to be the cost of doing business.
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