Gig employees and PPE: A building issue for some employers

| Jan 6, 2021 | employment law

All employers know their responsibilities and obligations when it comes to their workers’ personal protective equipment (PPE). Fulfilling these obligations is necessary to keep workers safe and employers in line with state and federal regulations.

However, in the middle of this global pandemic, the nuances of these obligations have recently led some employers to face serious disagreements with their workers and a high risk of litigation.

Employers must provide PPE to employees

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), federal law requires employers to take several steps to ensure workplace safety, including:

  • Assessing hazards in the work environment;
  • Determining the proper PPE to mitigate these hazards;
  • Providing their employees with PPE at no charge; and
  • Maintaining the PPE and updating PPE policies if necessary.

Violating these requirements could result in employers facing significant fines and even legal disputes. It seems some employers are currently facing complex issues regarding PPE, though not for the same reasons many might think.

Could controversy be brewing regarding PPE and worker classification?

In July, CNN reported on a protest conducted by Lyft drivers in California who stated their employer did not provide them with the proper PPE to stay safe during the pandemic. They have safety kits available for purchase, but they are not providing PPE free of charge.

And many drivers claim Lyft will not provide them with PPE because they still do not want to recognize them as employees under Assembly Bill 5.

California employers are familiar with AB 5 by now, as it went into effect on January 1, 2020. However, CNN reported that Lyft and Uber still have not complied with the new law. Therefore, they still classify their drivers as gig workers instead of employees.

 Why is this important for employers to know?

Several businesses across California employ both employees and independent contractors. These employers must always be consciously aware of:

  1. Keeping workers safe; but also
  2. Complying with AB 5.

This is critical to avoid serious penalties – and litigation.

Business owners and employers alike should monitor the developments in this case. However, they should also proactively review their practices and PPE policies. This is especially important to avoid complex disputes with employees and future legal issues.