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On Demand Worker Injuries and Gig Economy Careers

person in gig courier service job providing delivery service on bicycle

The American economy has changed dramatically in the last decade. Many workers who lost jobs in the Great Recession have found that eight-plus years of recovery have not included full-time jobs for them.

More and more people of all ages and experience levels are working as freelance or contract workers, giving rise to the so-called “gig economy.” These temporary or part-time workers are not considered employees, no matter how many hours a week they put in for an employer. Therefore, temporary or freelance workers are typically not eligible for workers’ compensation protection, which employers must provide for employees who are injured on the job.

In a policy brief, the National Employment Law Project (NELP) calls “on-demand jobs” among the most dangerous in the country and says they should include workers’ compensation. “Three of the most common sectors in on-demand businesses are transportation, delivery, and home services, including domestic work such as caregiving.”

The job-related dangers to which these workers are exposed make it critical that they be covered by workers’ compensation,” NELP says.

Dangers Related to Ride-Share Services

Ride-share services, like Uber and Lyft, have made the most of the gig economy. They have put millions of part-time drivers to work as for-hire drivers dispatched via mobile phone apps whenever a customer needs a ride.

The NELP says for-hire transportation is the largest segment of on-demand work and a very hazardous industry. It quotes the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which says taxi drivers and chauffeurs, occupations that are much like Lyft or Uber “ride-hailing drivers,” face one of the highest risks for occupational fatalities among all occupations.

Counting motor vehicle accidents and deaths from homicides, for-hire drivers are killed on the job five times more often than the average for all other workers. Accidents and incidents of violence can also lead to catastrophic injuries that cause disabling injuries, lost work time and costly medical bills.

Homicide rates among for-hire drivers are over 20 times greater than for other workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says the key risk factors are working:

Musculoskeletal injuries are also common among for-hire drivers, including back and neck injuries from long hours behind the wheel.

Dangers Related to Delivery and Courier Services

Companies that deploy couriers and messengers to pick up and deliver messages, documents, packages, and other items also have turned to the gig economy trend of relying on temporary workers.

These individuals, who may travel by automobile, bicycle, motorcycle, foot, or (less often) public transportation, face dangers similar to those of ride-hailing drivers and more, including:

  • Vehicle or bicycle accidents
  • Slips, trips and falls
  • Violence (bullying, physical attacks, robbery)
  • Dog bites
  • Insect stings
  • Exposure to extreme weather temperatures and UV radiation from sunlight
  • Exposure to improperly labelled hazardous chemicals or biological materials (e.g., medical specimens)
  • Pain or injury from physical overexertion or repetitive manual tasks.

Other Gig-Type Jobs and Their Dangers

Caregiver jobs, including taking care of the elderly, housekeeping and babysitting:

  • Risk of illness or infection from assisting the ill, performing first aid, changing diapers, exposure to soiled linen, etc.
  • Risk of muscle strains and back injuries from lifting, pushing, pulling or carrying heavy loads
  • Slips, trips and falls
  • Strain from working in awkward postures or performing repetitive tasks
  • Exposure to chemicals in household cleaning products
  • Working with sharp knives or other potentially hazardous tools
  • Risk of burns from ovens, deep fryers, and steam from pots.

Hospitality services, including hotel and motel work, restaurant work, and working at theaters, stadiums or special events:

  • Risk of pain or injury from lifting, pushing, pulling or carrying heavy loads
  • Slips, trips and falls, including on uneven grounds, surfaces of theaters or stadiums, slippery kitchen floors, etc.
  • Working with hot surfaces and substances (e.g., hot plates, pans and splashes from hot oils or liquids)
  • Working with sharp knives or other potentially hazardous tools
  • Violence (bullying, physical attacks, robbery).

Labor services / handyman jobs, including general maintenance and repairs, and landscape maintenance:

  • Risk of pain or injury from lifting, pushing, pulling or carrying heavy loads
  • Slips, trips and falls, including on uneven surfaces or ground
  • Injuries from working with powers tools, such as mowers, string trimmers, saws, drills, nail guns
  • Strain from working in awkward postures or performing repetitive tasks
  • Respiratory distress from atmospheric contaminants such as dust, synthetic mineral fibers and asbestos.

How a Lawyer Can Help If You Are Injured in a Gig-Type Job

Unless or until state or the federal government leaders address the lack of protection for injured gig workers, such as through portable benefit requirements, those who work as temps, freelancers or contractors and are technically unemployed will most often do without benefits, including workers’ compensation insurance.

However, workers’ comp is a benefit to employers, too. The bargain behind laws requiring employers to provide workers’ compensation insurance for employees is that the law bars employees from suing negligent employers responsible for their injuries.

Companies that use temps and other contracted workers do not have this protection. They can be sued if their negligence led to a gig worker’s injury or illness. Such a legal claim could seek compensation for medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering and more — more, actually, than workers’ compensation pays.

If you work as a temp, contractor, freelancer or other kind of gig worker and have been injured on the job, the attorneys at Hardison & Cochran may be able to help you. We are Raleigh workers’ compensation and personal injury lawyers, and can investigate the potential for pursuing a legal claim for you. We are available to review the details of your injury and discuss the legal avenues available to you.

Call Hardison & Cochran today toll-free at (800) 434-8399 or fill out our online contact form. We’ll respond within 24 hours. We’ll be happy to set up an initial consultation with you, which is always free.

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