Florida lawmakers consider independent contractors amid pandemic



By Jim Turner – Florida News Service


A Senate panel on Tuesday approved a proposal to prevent independent contractors who receive Covid-19 security items and assistance from being labeled as company employees.

While voicing concerns, members of the Trade and Tourism Committee unanimously advanced the bill (SB 542), which is supported by the conservative Americans for Prosperity-Florida.

Bill sponsor Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Doral, said “companies are afraid to provide these security materials” for fear that actions will be taken against them in legal proceedings.

Rodriguez said, for example, that if a company like Uber gave their drivers hand sanitizer or face masks, the drivers could lose their status as independent contractors.

“This is basically to clarify that in a public emergency, like Covid, a company like Uber which mainly, the vast majority of their employees are independent contractors, that this employment contract is not negatively affected “said Rodriguez.

Under the proposal, certain actions by companies during public health emergencies — such as the provision of safety training, personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies, medical tests or financial assistance to people unable to work due to health problems — could not be used as evidence to establish employer-employee relationships.

The proposal arose, at least in part, because California battled ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft over the status of drivers as independent contractors.

“We want to make sure that employers have the right, if they want to, to be able to provide this kind of protections to their independent contractors, as we saw in this California example, to make sure that they are able to do it without having to worry about a possible lawsuit? Will that change around my business plan? ”Americans for Prosperity-Florida policy director Phillip Suderman said.“ And I think, you know, in terms of the scope of this project. law, limiting it to a single state of emergency, isn’t it, that’s a clearly defined example in case in terms of narrow scope, we want to try to encourage these actions. “

The proposal would be limited to public emergencies declared by the public health officer, who is the surgeon general. But members of the Senate committee felt that the wording of the bill was “broad”.

“The definition of an employee is markedly different from the definition of an independent contractor. And I have to admit I ended up in hot water with more than one condition to mess them up somehow, ”said Senator Tom Wright, R-New Smyrna Beach. “So it concerns me that we make this area a kind of gray area. And on that day, in this particular situation, we can treat you like an employee, while treating you fiscally like an independent employer or independent contractor. So this really concerns me, I’m struggling with this particular bill to make a change that I think could come back to haunt us.

Senator Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, said she supports helping private entrepreneurs in light of a special session this month in which Republican lawmakers passed measures designed primarily to prevent workers are not required to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

“As an employer, I can tell you that I think employers should use everything in their power to try to protect their employees,” said Taddeo, Democratic candidate for the 2022 gubernatorial nomination. . “So I actually think that limiting their ability to give them masks or disinfectants, when we’re in a public health crisis, is clearly not something we want to do.”

Senator Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach, said the bill could be “more stringent.”

“The warning is during a public health emergency, and I think the tongue also indicates that it is being called by the state health worker, whom I know we were discussing recently about what credentials should be given to a state health officer, ”said Powell. “These things worry me.”

A similar measure in the House (HB 411) did not appear in the committees. Bills are tabled for the 2022 legislative session, which will begin in January.



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