Ask a Lawyer: Are Users of Yelp & Uber Legally Considered Employees?

Business.com / Legal / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

A new ruling has solidified an aspect of Internet law: website users, reviewers and contributors aren’t necessarily employees of the site.

A new ruling has solidified another aspect of Internet law: website users, reviewers and many so-called “contributors” aren’t necessarily employees of a given online property.

The case was Jeung v. Yelp, and the decision is expected to have a lasting impact on digital legalities.

However, it’s not expected to settle issues related to the sharing economy, represented by companies like Uber and Lyft.

Specifically, the Jeung court ruled that online “reviewers” are not considered employees of Yelp.

Jeung v. Yelp: An Attempt By Business Owners To Bury The Consumer Review Website

Many business owners aren’t Yelp fans because they believe that some of the reviews are fake. Some people love Yelp. Others? Not so much.

Many small business owners see the site as a pit of potential problems, a cauldron of chaos marketing, where anonymous, negative reviews are used to ruin industry rivals.

And the fear is fair. Not every Yelp post is a legitimate criticism. Sometimes, competitors, foes, and frenemies use the website to maliciously smear individuals and businesses.

In recent years, the disdain has reached a fever pitch, and there is a “down-with-Yelp” movement amongst small business owners who believe the website, itself, manipulates postings as a way to extort money from hardworking entrepreneurs. Lawsuits have been levied, and documentaries have been made.

Related Article: Not Just a Game: Legal Considerations for Social Media Contests and Sweepstakes

Yelp Keeps Winning Lawsuits Aimed At Bringing Them Down

Unfortunately, for small business owners, Yelp has yet to be hit where it hurts. (Though, people have won lawsuits against individual Yelp users who’ve committed acts of defamation.)

And the Jeung ruling is no different. It’s still, advantage, Yelp.

From the Jeung ruling:

“[R]easonable inference is that plaintiffs and the putative class members may contribute reviews under circumstances that either cannot be reasonably characterized as performing a service to Yelp at all, or that at most would constitute acts of volunteerism.”

“That Yelp may realize financial profit from publishing the reviews written by plaintiffs and other putative class members (through third-party advertising on the website) does not necessarily mean that the writers are performing a service for Yelp.”

Related Article: Are Hashtags Intellectual Property?

Plaintiff Argument: Reviewers Are Employees Because Yelp Couldn’t Exist Without Them

In Jeung v. Yelp, the plaintiffs argued that a value exchange existed between reviewers and Yelp. In other words: Yelp couldn’t exist if it weren’t for the reviewers.

But the court concluded that account creation and termination were not acts of “hiring” and “firing.” As such, it determined that Yelp reviewers were engaging in acts of volunteerism, not employment.

Other Lawsuits Dealing With The Status Of Contributors and Reviewers

Jeung was not the first lawsuit that addressed the issue of website employment terms. In 2012, some writers who wrote for the Huffington Post launched a claim.

In that suit, the courts also sided with the website. In a blog post, Eric Goldman points out that this second ruling regarding employment status of content contributors and reviewers will most likely pervade the user-generated industry.

That said, he also hypothesized that the rulings in Jeung and the Huffington Post cases will not affect lawsuits involving companies like Uber and Lyft and other sharing economy legal issues.

Related Article: Overdue & Over You: What Actions Can You Take When a Client Hasn’t Paid?

Contact Lawyers Who Have Gotten Content Removed From Yelp and Other Websites

Do you need to speak with an attorney about:

  1. Getting your name removed from a website?
  2. Getting a defamatory comment removed from a consumer review, shame or gossip website?
  3. Any Internet law legal issue related to your business or reputation?

We regularly work with clients who’ve been defamed on sites like Ripoff Report, Yelp, Scambook, TheDirty and a host of other social media and review websites.

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