New and emerging work relationships arising in the “online gig economy” do not fit easily into the existing legal definitions of “employee” and “independent contractor” status. The distinction is important because employees qualify for a range of legally mandated benefits and protections that are not available to independent contractors, such as the right to organise and bargain collectively, workers’ compensation insurance coverage, and overtime compensation. This paper proposes a new legal category, which we call “independent workers,” for those who occupy the gray area between employees and independent contractors.
Independent workers typically work with intermediaries who match workers to customers. The independent worker and the intermediary have some elements of the arms-length independent business relationships that characterise “independent contractor” status, and some elements of a traditional employee-employer relationship.