Google’s ‘Independent Contractors’ Fire Back

     MANHATTAN (CN) – While Fortune Magazine ranked Google the best company to work for this year, a Brooklynite who worked as an hourly employee far from its Silicon Valley headquarters says hourly workers are not as privileged as “independent contractors.”
     Jacob McPherson, 27, says he took a $35-an-hour job in January 2013 as a site merchandiser for the books-and-magazines division of Google Play.
     Until his termination on New Year’s Eve, McPherson worked out of the company’s office in the fashionable Chelsea Market.
     A 15-hour cap on McPherson’s hours during his training period doubled to 30 hours roughly four months later, according to the complaint filed Wednesday.
     But McPherson says more than half of his employment was filled with more-than-45-hour weeks. He was allegedly fired after complaining about unpaid overtime.
     McPherson sued Google and the software companies that connect it to freelancers: oDesk Corporation and its successor, Elance-oDesk Inc.
     The complaint does not estimate how many other Google employees were in McPherson’s position, but a confidential employment agreement included as an exhibit shows some of the terms employees like him have signed.
     The contract warns all “vendors and contractors” that “refusal of a work assignment” and “excessive absenteeism” can result in the “immediate end of [their] assignmentor services” at Google.
     In practice, this meant that McPherson and “others similarly situated were often forced to work more than the maximum allowed hours in order to complete the tasks assigned to them by Google and keep their job,” according to the Nov. 7 complaint.
     “Google had a practice of requiring plaintiff and others similarly situated to decrease the time spent on repeated tasks on a weekly basis,” the complaint states. “When Google’s requirement became impossible and the time spent on these tasks could not be decreased, plaintiff and others similarly situated were forced to complete the tasks on their own time.”
     After McPherson complained about this policy, his manager replied that “all tasks must be completed without regard to the time,” and warned him that he would be replaced if he did not finish them, according to the complaint.
     “In fact, Google did find a replacement contractor and terminated plaintiff’s employment,” the complaint states.
     In October 2013, McPherson says that he learned from a friend within the company that Google Play was “in talks” with another contractor seeking his position. McPherson learned about his termination about a month later, according to the complaint.
     Google then used McPherson’s “contractor” status in an attempt to keep him from collecting unemployment insurance benefits, according to the complaint.
     “Although defendants disputed plaintiff’s eligibility based on their claim that he was an independent contractor, the New York State Department of Labor ultimately determined that plaintiff was an employee for the purposes of unemployment insurance and plaintiff received [Unemployment Insurance Benefits],” the complaint states.
     McPherson seeks class-action damages for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law, plus injunctive relief for unlawful retaliation.
     He is represented by David Harrison with Harrison, Harrison & Associates in Red Bank, N.J.
     Google and Elance-oDesk declined to comment.

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