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For many people, the app-enabled gig economy has changed the way that they approach work. It has allowed people to pick up new side hustles, extra freelance work, or even start whole new careers.
At the same time, though, it has upended much about the employer-worker relationship that's developed over the past 100 years. In the process, it is also shifting a massive liability burden back onto workers that they had shed through decades of labor organizing and negotiation.
That's because the vast majority of today's gig economy workers are classified as contractors by the tech companies they get jobs from.
That's an important difference because it means that every single Uber driver, TaskRabbit tasker, and Postmates courier operates as a business of one – and that they're responsible for anything that happens to them (or those around them) when they're working.
At the same time, the companies that make up the gig economy often seem to put their own best interests above that of their workers and even the customers they serve.
Consider Uber, for example, which operates an incident investigation unit whose sole purpose seems to be to deflect any blame away from the company when something goes wrong.
All of it adds up to an increased need for those participating in the gig economy to find ways to protect themselves from the massive amount of risk they're now forced to shoulder. Here are some tips on how to do it.
Photo: Freedomz / Adobe Stock
For any gig economy worker, the first step to limiting their risk is to make sure to carry appropriate insurance for the job they're doing. Drivers for ride-sharing apps should carry extra insurance coverage over and above their existing auto policy to make sure they're covered if they have an accident with a passenger on board.
The same goes for workers that have to complete tasks in and around customers' homes and businesses. Carrying the appropriate type of liability insurance can quite literally save your financial life in the event something happens to you, a customer, or their belongings while you're working.
Photo: Blue Planet Studio / Adobe Stock
It's also a good idea for gig economy workers to apply some high-tech solutions to minimize the risks they face. The obvious solution for ride-sharing drivers is to equip their vehicle with a 360-degree camera system that captures the activity all around (and inside) the vehicle.
That way there's an incontrovertible record of everything that happened in the vehicle for the duration of every trip. It can protect drivers from accident liability, as well as from complaints from unruly customers.
For workers that have to travel to customers' homes or businesses, it's a good idea to purchase an inexpensive body camera to record the activity of each job. It will prevent any chance that you'll be blamed for damage to customer property or face any accusations of untoward behavior while on the job.
Plus, having the camera visible at all times helps to keep you safe in your travels, which is a benefit that can't be overstated.
Photo: metamorworks / Adobe Stock
Another way that gig economy workers can help shield themselves from risk, especially if they're depending on such work for the majority of their income, is to opt to incorporate themselves as a business. Most incorporated business types carry inherent liability benefits such as shielding personal assets from seizure in the event of a lawsuit, and can help protect gig economy workers from financial penalties related to their work. When coupled with the aforementioned liability insurance, incorporating forms an effective bulwark against most of the risks associated with freelance work in the gig economy.
Photo: peshkova / Adobe Stock
At the end of the day, gig economy workers only benefit if they're able to earn a decent wage and keep themselves protected from the risks that come with the work. At a time when the tech companies powering the new economy seem to be doing everything in their power to shirk their own responsibility for the workers and customers they deal with, it falls to the individuals that take on the work to make sure they're not hung out to dry when a problem arises. At least until new legal frameworks arise to re-balance the employer-worker equation in response to this new economic paradigm that shows no signs of going anywhere soon.