Labor Law and Crowdsourcing

July 13, 2011 By Aminda

A UC Berkley Law Student has published a forward-thinking analysis of Employment and Labor Law in the Crowdsourcing Industry, which should be of interest to anyone involved as an employer or worker in a crowdsourcing model. The article uses Amazon’s Mechanical Turk as a case study to illustrate how the current U.S. legal regime, described as “gap-ridden and outdated”, fails to accommodate new labor models.

The author’s recommendations for improvement are multi-faceted, addressing five influencers.Legislatures: recognizing that an overhaul of federal employment law is not imminent, the author calls for state legislatures to fill in the gaps, regulating crowdsourcing vendors similarly to how they have done to job listing services and day labor sites. In the short term, the goal would be to ensure some level of fairness and transparency, eventually easing “the path to litigation and spurring firms and crowdsourcing venues to change their approach.”

Administrative Agencies such as the Department of Labor can assist by providing standards and guidelines that identify what aspects of the employment relationship matter in the virtual workplace. An example would be the incorporation of “telework” (work done by a salaried employee while telecommuting) into federal minimum wage and disability law.

Courts: The current body of law was created by judges who could not have even contemplated a phenomenon like Mechanical Turk, where a worker can perform a unit of labor in a second (or less). The courts are tasked with revising the definition of “employer” and “employee” to recognize the economic realities of online and virtual work.

Firms and Crowdsourcing Vendors: Firms utilizing crowdsourced labor are called on to simply commit to paying fair wages and delivering compensation for any work they request. Vendors, many of whom have already established best practices such as mandatory wage floors, can further enhance transparency and moderation.

Finally, workers are encouraged to organize or participate in a crowd workers’ association that could lobby on behalf of crowd workers, establish group benefits, handle disputes, inform crowd workers of their legal rights, and serve as a clearinghouse for information and strategy.

What do you think, are changes needed to employment laws regarding crowdsourced work or does the current, lightly-regulated model work OK for those who participate?

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