The case of Olson v. State of California[i] revolves around the legal challenge to California Assembly Bill 5 (A.B. 5) and its subsequent amendments, which seek to categorize workers as employees or independent contractors for California wage orders.
The plaintiffs in the case are individual plaintiffs, Uber, Inc. and Postmates, Inc., and are primarily engaged in app-based ride-hailing and delivery services. The plaintiffs argued A.B. 5, as amended, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.[ii] They alleged the legislation’s primary motivation stems from the unfavorable perception of gig-based business models like theirs.[iii] The plaintiffs also contend their exclusion from exemptions provided in the law indicates animus rather than reason, further supporting their equal protection claim.[iv]
The court affirmed that plaintiffs plausibly alleged an equal protection violation, as the enactment of A.B. 5 appeared to target specific app-based gig companies.[v] However, the court dismissed the plaintiffs’ due process claims, ruling A.B. 5 did not entirely prohibit them from engaging in their respective callings.[vi]
Status of AB5 and its Implications
A.B. 5, as amended, codified the “ABC test” adopted by the Supreme Court of California in the Dynamex case.[vii] The test is used to differentiate between employees and independent contractors, with significant implications for wage orders and labor protections.[viii] The legislation has profoundly impacted various industries, particularly those heavily reliant on gig economy workers.
The law’s implementation has raised concerns and sparked debates regarding worker classification, labor rights, and the overall nature of employment relationships. Proponents argue it provides essential protections for workers who may be misclassified as independent contractors, ensuring access to benefits, fair wages, and improved working conditions. Critics argue it hinders the flexibility and autonomy many gig economy workers desire, potentially leading to reduced job opportunities and increased costs for businesses.
State of California’s Request and Potential Impact
In this case, the State of California sought to enforce A.B. 5 against app-based ride-hailing and delivery service providers. If the state’s request were granted, these companies would have to reclassify their drivers as employees, resulting in significant shifts in their business models. This change would impose new obligations on these companies, such as providing minimum wages, overtime pay, benefits, and complying with additional labor regulations.
If the requested change is implemented, it could have far-reaching consequences for the industry. App-based gig companies may experience financial challenges due to increased labor costs, which could ultimately impact their viability. Additionally, the reclassification of drivers as employees may limit the flexibility and independence which attracted many individuals to work in the gig economy.
The case of Olson v. State of California highlights the ongoing legal battle surrounding California Assembly Bill 5 and its potential impact on app-based gig companies. While the court dismissed certain claims, it affirmed the plaintiffs’ equal protection claim, suggesting the motivations behind A.B. 5 may warrant further scrutiny. If the state’s request to enforce A.B. 5 against app-based ride-hailing and delivery services is granted, it could significantly disrupt the industry by requiring companies to reclassify workers as employees and adhere to additional labor regulations. The outcome of this case will undoubtedly have substantial implications for both workers and businesses operating in the gig economy.
[i] Lydia Olson, et al v. State of California, et al, No. 21-55757 (9th Cir. 2023).
[vii] Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court of Los Angeles, 4 Cal. 5th 903 (2018).
[viii] Id. at 916-917.