It has become increasingly common for workers, especially those in the millennial generation, to work within the so-called “gig economy.” Companies like Uber, Instacart, and Favor allow individuals to work as independent contractors to perform a variety of services. Uber, the ride-share platform, recently introduced a pilot program for Massachusetts workers’ compensation benefits. The company, along with private insurance companies, allows its drivers, who are generally independent contractors, to purchase coverage that offers $1 million maximum coverage for medical costs and weekly earnings due to a work-related accident, and there is no deductible or co-pay.
Employers are mandated, with certain exceptions, to maintain in effect a workers’ compensation policy at all times, under Massachusetts law. The policy reasoning behind this requirement is so that injured workers receive medical benefits as well as some wages, and the employer is shielded against potentially expensive personal injury lawsuits. There are exceptions to this rule, however, and the number of workers within this exception is growing. Massachusetts law does not require that employers maintain workers’ compensation insurance coverage for independent contractors, as opposed to employees. Although there is frequent litigation over whether an employer is correctly classifying its workers as independent contractors, gig economy workers are often treated as independent contractors.
This initiative available to Boston Uber drivers is privately developed, but both the federal government and state lawmakers are introducing legislation that might provide workers in the gig economy with workers’ compensation benefits that are connected to the worker as opposed to the employer. For instance, a U.S. Senator introduced legislation earlier this year that would create a $20 million fund for portable insurance-like benefits. The proposal would be funded by the Department of Labor, but like the Uber project, it would likely be launched as a pilot program and issue grants to state governments, unions, and non-profits.