Unemployment Compensation Win for Gig Workers

Donald Lowman, Jr. filed for unemployment compensation on June 14, 2015 after he lost his job in the behavioral health sector. While he was waiting to hear back about his unemployment benefits, he started driving for Uber.  When the Department of Labor and Industry finally contacted him in August, they informed him that while he would have been entitled to unemployment benefits from his initial job loss, they were denying him because driving for Uber was considered disqualifying "self-employment." 

Donald and his attorney, Julia Simon-Mishel, Supervising Attorney of PLA’s Unemployment Compensation Unit, knew from the beginning that this was an important case.  They worked together to build a strong record that detailed Donald's relationship with Uber and showed the multiple ways that Uber controlled his work.  After five years of litigation, the fight for recognition of Donald, and other drivers, rights as employees for Uber ended in victory. In 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed with Simon-Mishel’s argument that Donald was not “self-employed” while driving for Uber because he was not engaged in his own business, and Uber controlled and directed his work. Donald could therefore not be disqualified from unemployment benefits based on his work for Uber. The way that governments classify gig workers is central to whether they are eligible for certain social insurance benefits, such as unemployment compensation.   

After the Supreme Court’s decision, Pennsylvania will no longer be able to disqualify Uber drivers from unemployment benefits; instead, the state will factor in Uber earnings when determining the amount of unemployment benefits an applicant should receive. In fact, because of the Supreme Court's decision, many drivers have now qualified for Pennsylvania unemployment compensation benefits during the pandemic based solely on their work for Uber.