Platforms as Employers. New Forms of Work in the Gig Economy



Platforms as employers. New forms of work in the gig-economy

Anna Ginès i Fabrellas, Assistant Professor, ESADE Law School (Universitat Ramon Llull, Barcelona).


The aim of the paper presented at the Conference Reshaping Work in the Platform Economy is to analyse the new forms of work that have appeared in the gig-economy and, specifically, how online platforms can act as employers.

Recently multiple App-based companies have emerged, significantly altering the way in which services are provided. Platforms like Uber, Lift, Airbnb, Myfixpert, GetYourHero, TaskRabbit or Amazon Mechanical Turk, although also using a scheme based on online platforms or Apps to allow contact between users, have gone beyond the idea of exchange of underused goods and services of the sharing economy. Included in the so-called uber, on-demand, gig or platform economy, these platforms allow contract between customers and service providers for urban transport, accommodation, repair of electronic equipment, household cleaning, performing tasks or HITs (Human Intelligent Tasks), respectively.

These on-line platforms –examples of postmodern capitalism– have altered the way in which services are provided, as they outsource their entire production to a wide number of independent contractors through an App or webpage and the hiring of each service on-demand. The key to success of these companies is the division of their production in microtasks, the externalization of their entire production to a wide number of independent contractors and the hiring of each service on- demand.

New technologies have allowed these companies to avoid hiring workers and crowdsource to provide their services entirely through self-employed workers. As a result, this new form of provision of services has allowed an escape from the application of Labor Law. Services that were previously provided by employees, can nowadays be entirely outsourced to independent contractors. Since the providers of services are formally considered independent contractors, they are not protected by the labor and Social Security legislation.

However, from the standpoint of Labor Law, the question that arises is the legal classification that must be given to the relationship between these App-based companies and the service providers. Although there is still a sceptic sector of the literature, there are some judicial and administrative decisions that have declared the existence of a labor relationship between these companies and the service providers.

In this context, the aim of the paper is to analyse if these App-based companies in the gig-economy are acting as real employers; that is, if new technologies have enabled platforms to act as employers.

The preliminary results of the research show that online platforms in the gig-economy share the main characteristics of employers. In this sense, the traditional concept of employer is still valid to identify cases of misclassification of workers.

Nevertheless, traditionally important characteristics of the concept of employer, such as the organization of working time, the provision of the means of productions or the assumption of costs are not relevant when platforms are acting as employers. Other aspects of the employment relationship have acquired importance, like aspects of the legal relationship, such as the adoption of market decisions, marketing strategies, selection processes, fixing prices, etc. Platforms acting in the gig-economy adopt economic decisions that qualifies them as the real employer. 

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