Does everybody have a side gig? And what does that mean for Workers’ Comp and OH&S?

20 May, 2019 Terry Bogyo

“I can’t do it, Matt.  I am boarding a flight to Seattle.  I have a DJ gig Saturday night so there is no way I can be back on site this weekend.” 
You can’t help but overhear cellphone conversations while waiting in a crowded airport boarding gate lounge.  The man next to me at the Oakland airport was juggling the demands of his primary job and his “side gig” (or “side hustle”).  As he explained to his supervisor, this weekend job was paying him big money, so he could not just walk away from it and come to work Sunday to finish the welding job at the client’s workplace.  

Multiple-job holding, gigs and side gigs
This worker was not alone.  The firefighter across the aisle was telling his mate about his off-shift work as an electrician.  The government policy adviser next to me was marking term papers from the class he teaches on-line.  
On a recent cab trip to the airport, my driver explained his other jobs.  He helps connect foreign students with employers during the days he is not driving and travels abroad three or four times a year to help recruit students, arrange for their applications and visas.  He took two calls related to this work during our drive to the airport.  
A colleague at a recent Washington DC meeting hailed a driver for his trip to the airport.  He swears by the ride-hailing services he uses as he travels in the US and internationally.  Uber and Lyft have more than  4.4 million drivers between them—that’s more drivers than the population of half the states in the US.  
Gig jobs appear everywhere in my own community.  A local social media site hosted a post from one enterprising worker:  house and dog sitting services … as long as your home has wifi internet access so he or she could work on-line.  For online workers, the possibility of being employed by several people at essentially the same time can be a reality.  My trek to Ikeaconfronted me with TaskRabbit as a resource, to have a “tasker” assemble my next purchase.  And a DoorDash “dasher”,  Skip the Dishes courier or Uber Eats driver is apparently ready to deliver our next food order to my front door.  
Gig jobs are not limited to driving or wielding a hex key.  Technology enabled platforms like UpworkFreelancer, and Fiverr have expanded the market place for freelance services in categories from graphic design to jingle creation .  The listing opportunities are even referred to as “ggs” on some platforms. 
We used to think in terms of hiring the neighbour’s teenage as a babysitter, dogwalker or housekeeper but demographic change alone means the once ubiquitous supply of task-specific labour is now a scarce resource.  Task services like now broker those limited engagements for child care, special needs care, senior care, pet care, housekeeping and tutoring.’s Q4 2018 report states “total caregivers grew to 13.4 million at the end of the fourth quarter of 2018, an increase of 14% over the same period of 2017.”
One workers’ compensation CEO raised this issue during a recent project consultation.  She believed there were a growing number of gig workers—many of whom are multi-job holders; she worried about the risks this phenomenon imposed on workers and the consequences for workers’ comp and occupational health and safety.   
Shifts away from traditional employment models 
Evidence of a fundamental change is occurring in the workplace is apparent beyond the OAK departure lounge.  Deloitte Insights noted the results of its  Global Human Capital Trends survey of 11,000 human resource and business leaders [Dimple Agarwal, Josh Bersin, Gaurav Lahiri, Jeff Schwartz, Erica Volini “The workforce ecosystem: Managing beyond the enterprise”, Deloitte Insights, March 28, 2018]:
  • 50 percent of the year’s respondents reported a significant number of contractors in their workforces; 
  • 23 percent reported a significant number of freelancers, and
  • 13 percent reported a significant number of gig workers.


The survey asked participants to forecast how their workforce composition would change by 2020 relative to the present (presumably 2017/18).  
“… 37 percent of this year’s survey respondents expected growth in the use of contractors, 33 percent in the use of freelancers, and 28 percent in the use of gig workers”.
Those contractors, freelancers and gig workers have different characteristics that traditional employees.  Their work is more contingent with a strong likelihood of having multiple employers either sequentially or even concurrently.  

Multi-job Holding 
While survey data like the Deloitte Insights study and observations in airport holding rooms might suggest a growing issue,  hard data on the actual numbers of gig workers or those who are multi-job holding are hard to come by.  Part of this difficulty comes from definitions of key terms like multi-job holding.   
Defining multi-job holding alone is not as straightforward as you might think.   There are many possible patterns that may be classified as multi-job holding.  Most studies rely on self-reports of individuals, which makes sense; workers know they are working multiple jobs.  Employers generally are not aware if their employees have additional work arrangements. Administrative data such as tax filings and even employment insurance (unemployment insurance) data typically do not look at the possible work arrangements, only the report of income or insurability of work in the qualifying period regardless of the number of employers. 
While most workers in the economy have one employer and work full or part-time for one employer, there are three patterns of multi-job holding and workers may change patterns as personal, health, social or economic demands or opportunities dictate.  
The simplest and most common is a worker who has two or more continuing employee/employer relationships at the same time.  In this form of multi-job holding, there may be a primary job with one employer and a part-time job with another.  The clerk who works days in an office and tends bar in the evenings and weekends, for example.  
Another common pattern involves working for multiple employers consecutively.  This form of multi-job holding is common in some trades and among workers with precarious employment situations.  Commonality in title or occupation may or may not be present; most commonly, this pattern tends to be in the same industry. A framing carpenter who works for consecutive but often different employers would be one example;  a farm worker who is a ski instructor in the off season would be another.  

Is it a gig or continuing self-employment?
A growing number of workers have no primary job and instead rely on a series of “gigs” as independent contractors or under project-specific terms of employment with many different (but sometimes repeating) employers.  Although the term “gig” comes from the entertainment industry, computer programmers, graphic designers, and business consultants [and even conference speakers]  may well use the term to describe their work engagements.  
The key elements of gig employment were concisely stated in a recent presentation: 

a “gig” refers to a job with no long‐term connection to a particular business.  Workers are employed on a particular task or for a defined time
[see Katharine Abraham, John C. Haltiwanger, Kristin Sandusky, and James R. Spletzer, “Measuring. the ‘Gig’ Economy,” U. of Maryland, October 2015;] 

Aside from the task or role and time specificity, this definition implies another distinguishing feature of gig employment from the gig workers’ perspective: gaps and overlaps in the employee/employer relationships (and often the lack of a primary, continuing employment arrangement).  Gigs can be in the same line of work or different ones, each with a unique employer … as well as varying risks and workers’ compensation coverage.
[Note, although I have used the term “employer”,  the term includes self-employment.  A farmer may work daily on the farm (self-employed in a primary, continuing form of self-employment) but work off-farm in one or more jobs for an employer.  A self-employed tradesperson may wok for multiple customers but the self-employment is the continuing employment.] 
The graphic in this post delineates these alternatives in their simplest forms.  In reality, some multi-job holders may have three or more distinct employer-employee relationships simultaneously.  

Why multi-job holding and gig employment exist
It is important to emphasize that multi-employment may be a necessity or a choice.  Workers may need multiple jobs to support themselves and their families, to put food on the table, pay the rent, or put the kids through college.  For others, gig work may be a function of the labour market, a consequence of episodic disability, or family demands.  There are some who may chose multi-job holding for other reasons including mental health or lifestyle.   
Multi-job holding can provide a variety of experiences, a way to develop new skills, or increase social contact.  Reasons other than financial can drive multi-job holding.  The architect or teacher with a passion for music may play in a band or teach out of a creative rather than financial need.  I’ve spoken to a number of gig workers who love the flexibility and variety multiple-job holding offers them.  For others, however, working multiple jobs is often a consequence of labour market factors (including the lack of available, continuing, full time employment opportunities) and financial realities (including the high cost of housing, food, transportation and childcare or education).   
From the employer perspective, contingent and casual labour is often needed to augment staffing during peak (often seasonal) demand.  As firms hone in on their core products and services, the cost of retaining talent or skills of those not so closely aligned with that core becomes debatable.  Does a school board need to have carpenters, flooring specialists or grounds keepers on staff?  Many did and some still do but others have contracted these services out.  Traditionally, those awarded contracts would seek out, screen, hire and supply labour for these tasks but platform-based services are disrupting that model, at least in larger centres where the density of potential gig workers is greater.  With a database of screened and skilled labour willing to take on task-specific and time-limited assignments, even subcontractors are using platform matching services to fill their own peak demands.

Gigs and gig “workers”[?]
There are no hard and fast definitions in available labour force survey data for gigs or gig workers and this leads to some confusion.  Our economy is built on the concept of capital and labour; capital engages labour most typically through employment.  Most employment is in the form of a continuing full or part-time relationship between the worker and the employer.  Traditionally, employers deal with peak need and project requirements through temporary, part time and other direct but “contingent” employment. 
The employed labour force is mostly comprised of full and part-time workers engaged with a single employer.  These engagements are not typically called gigs.  Self-employed workers and contractors are also a traditional part of the labour force.  Independent plumbers, electricians and other trades may be self-employed but provide labour in the economy.  Most studies I’ve read differentiate continuing trades work from gig jobs but the distinction is not always well defined. 
Most sources have solid definitions for full time work but may have less well-defined terms for other categories.  Consider these terms used to describe and categorize workers outside the traditional full and part-time roles:
  • Contractor
  • Freelancer
  • Consultant
  • Gig worker
  • Crowd (and Cloud) labour


Each term carries connotations about skill, employment status, and work pattern but most would not be considered “employees” in the same way a full-time employee is understood to have an employment relationship with a specific employer.
The more traditional terms of “freelancer” and “consultant” may now be lumped in with the category of gig workers.  The terms associated with gig workers are not definitive of legal status under workers’ compensation law or other statute.  They may be considered self-employed contractors but may also be employed workers of a labour supplier, sub-contractor or consulting firm.  
A gig opportunity may be with a specific employer but the relationship may be harder to define; the employer engages a freelancer or a sub-contractor who may engage a gig worker.  An intermediary platform may match a task with an individual.  This arrangement is the one most closely associated with the current use of “gigs”.   In some cases, the gig worker is an employee of an intermediary firm.  The “labour contractor” model applies but the labourer or professional is engaged for a specific task or project and for a specific time:  the task-time-location parameters define the gig; the platform provides the gig worker (Dasher, Tasker, Uber Driver, etc.).

Multi-job holding:  Stable rate but of greater concern for women, youth, and service sector workers
The lack of universal definitions for gig and gig workers means that data on their numbers is far from precise.  Ask a musician about work.  They may call their profession “musician” or “entertainer”, and likely tell you about their performances.  Each venue/event may be referred to as a gig.  The are also likely to tell you about the other jobs they do to put food on the table. 
The perception that gig employment is growing is not easily tested against existing data sources.  Given the characteristics of gig employment noted above, one indicator of the size and grown of gig employment would be in the statistics regarding multiple job holding.  
The most recent data appear to show current levels of multiple job holding are relatively low and stable.  Recent data posted by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) uses data from the Current Population Survey [see table at ]  to show about 5% of all employed persons  age 16 and over are working multiple jobs.  The rate is higher for single, divorced/separated, and widowed women generally (above 6%). Women in the 20-24 age range report the highest level of multiple job holding (6.8% in 2017, 6.6% in 2018).  
The data in Canada are similar.  Using Statistics Canada December 2018 employment data and Table: 14-10-0044-01,  the rate of multiple job holding is about 5.7%.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the service sector accounts for 90% of workers holding multiple or concurrent jobs.  Western Canada has a much higher rate of multiple job holding at 7.5% for Saskatchewan and Manitoba and about 6.3% for British Columbia and Alberta. About 57% of multiple job holders in Canada are women.  
Australian data suggests an even greater degree of multiple job holding in their labour force.  According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS], approximately 15% of employed persons were multiple job holders—a level that has been consistent since 2011/12.  According to a recent ABS analysis, “The highest proportion of multiple job holders worked their highest earning concurrent job in the Health care and social assistance industry.” [ see ABS 6160.0 - Jobs in Australia, 2011-12 to 2015-16 issued 19 September 2018] It should be noted, however, that data for self-employed persons with other employment may not be fully reflected in their data.  

Multi-job holding:  Health and Safety Concerns?
There is not a lot of research into the health and safety impacts of multiple-job holding.  Some studies have noted positive mental health outcomes particularly in the absence of financial stress.  Other studies lower hours of sleep and higher injury rates among multiple-job holders.  [see Marucci-Wellman HR, Willetts JL, Lin T, Brennan MJ, Verma SK. Work in multiple jobs and the risk of injury in the US working population, Am J Public Health. 2014;104(1):134–142 ; Marucci-Wellman HR, Lombardi DA, Willetts,  Working multiple jobs over a day or a week: Short-term effects on sleep duration. JL Chronobiol Int. 2016; 33(6):630-49.]
A recent study of Dutch workers (age 45 and older) lead researchers to develop four themes to classify experiences with multi-job holding:
  • work characteristics influence respondents’ experiences 
  • personal context affects how work characteristics influence experiences 
  • negative experiences with work characteristics often coincide with problems in personal context
  • experiences with MJH can change as part of a dynamic process.


The study found three main subgroups of responses among multi job holders:  those for whom the positive consequences outweigh the negative, where the consequences are neither positive nor negative and those who experiences mainly negative health consequences including health impacts [ see  Bouwhuis, S., De Wind, A., De Kruif, A., Geuskens, G. A., Van der Beek, A. J., Bongers, P. M., & Boot, C. (2018). Experiences with multiple job holding: a qualitative study among Dutch older workers. BMC public health, 18(1), 1054].
The challenge for the prevention mandate may be one of awareness.  Multi-job holders may not be fully aware of their risks and their risks may be dependent on that is significantly unique to the individual.  Research on occupational health and safety and the impact of sleep patterns on health and alertness tend to focus on workers in single-job, not multi-job holders.  
Workers with multiple jobs may also face unknown risks in each new job site.  Research tells us that “newness” to a venue or task is a risk factor for work-related injury.  Newness of venue and often specific tasks epitomize many gig jobs; the particular workplace, tools, or agents (and the risks they pose) in the job site may be familiar to the regular workers but obscure to a gig worker.  Workers who are frequently changing job sites may also face different safety cultures with varying degrees of openness about hazards, risks, safe working procedures… and reporting safety concerns.  Where the jobs are precarious but recalls are important, workers may also be reticent to “rock the boat” for fear of losing a future (or continuing) opportunity.  

Multi-job holding and gig jobs:  Are they covered by workers’ compensation?
Traditional jobs and multi-job holding are typically covered by workers’ compensation, at least in principle and individually.  As I discussed in my post “Will workers’ compensation cover income lost from my second job?”[   or ],
multi-job holding workers are covered wages lost in the accident employment but losses in their second or other job may not be covered.  The gig economy complicates matters further.  Is a tasker, driver, or dasher an employee or a self-employed worker?  Who, exactly is the employer?  If the worker is considered and independent operator, do they have access to optional workers’ compensation coverage?   At what point does my hiring a childcare provider through an app make me the employer?  There are no consistent answers for either the workers providing these services or the consumers of them.
Alternative insurance arrangements may provide some coverage for drivers working for Uber or Lyft but those cannot offer the same protections as workers’ compensation provide.  Traditionally, workers hired by an employer have the guaranteed protections of workers’ compensation:  compensation for lost wages and permanent disability, medical costs, and rehabilitation services.  The employer has protections, too.  The workers’ compensation coverage protects the employer from suit in the case of work-related injury and limits the direct cost of rare, catastrophic events.   The exclusive remedy of workers’ compensation that protects employers and co-workers from tort may not extend to gig workers.   
A recent  CBC marketpace  episode [CBC, Marketplace Episode 46, November 16, 2018] reported on issues in the food delivery sector.  The episode web page posts accompanying documents with these specific responses from Uber Eats and Skip the Dishes regarding workers’ compensation coverage:

Skip the Dishes:
In Canada, each province has its own unique worker compensation framework. We are currently registered with workers' compensation boards in Manitoba, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Alberta, and continue to engage with these boards while maintaining the flexibility, benefit, and independence our couriers enjoy thanks to being their own bosses.

Uber Eats:
Uber Canada’s office and customer-support staff is registered in provinces where that type of work requires registration. That registration is not specific to Uber Eats. Delivery partners are independent contractors and this type of work does not require registration by Uber Canada.


More questions than answers
Official data suggest that multi-job holding is lower now than in the past and relatively stable;  anecdotal commentary and observation particularly regarding gig jobs appear to contradict the official data.  It may be that the same number of workers holding are holding more jobs or that individual gigs are being grouped and considered as one job.   It may be that the reported data don’t capture the nuance of workplace realities.  It is possible, for example, that a worker working sequentially for 5 employers in the year and one who works two full-time jobs and three part-time jobs are counted the same way in some surveys and differently in others.  
Insurance including workers’ compensation coverage is complex and most people can’t imagine all the possible hazards, risks and potential loss.  No worker goes to work contemplating being injured that day but injuries occur; gig workers or multi-job holders may find they do not have the coverage they need.  If the gig is covered by workers’ compensation, there is no guarantee earnings lost from other jobs will be covered and compensated and vice versa. I doubt most gig workers and multi-job holders are aware of these potential gaps.   
Consumers are also in a bind.  In some cases, gig workers are employees of a service; in others, they are independent operators--- and independent operators may or may not be covered by workers’ compensation… and that changes the liability profile the consumer faces.  Consumers cannot be expected to get a Clearance Letter or Certificate of Insurance for each gig service they engage.  
If the projections are accurate and the trend towards more contract work, freelance, and gig employment continues, employers will face an increasingly complex workers’ compensation and occupational safety environment.  When everyone who worked for an employer was covered by the same workers’ compensation policy and occupational safety and health rules, managing risk and benefits may not have been simple, but it was manageable.  In a world with shifting employment patterns, multi-job holding and gig employment, managing risk and benefits is going to get even more complex.  
It is clear that the labour market is changing and that research into the changes is lagging.  While gig employment is still a minor segment of labour spectrum, it is likely to grow.  Existing definitions and data may not adequately describe work and quantify the risks or costs to workers, employer, consumers and society in general.  
Technology enables the expansion of the gig economy.  The disruption of traditional labour market dynamics means traditional definitions and methods may not adequately address this changing reality.  For occupational safety and health regulators, these changes alter workplace risks for traditional workers, gig workers and other persons in the workplace.  For workers’ compensation insurers, gig employment may be increasing wage compensation liability for insured employers.  For legislators and policy makers, there are fundamental questions about who should be covered and how much of the cost of work-related injuries should be contained by workers’ compensation or externalized to others, including tax payers.    
There are no simple ways to address these issues.  Research can help define our terms and develop methods to analyze data or more accurately describe and categorize work.  Traditional administrative and operational data may mask the changes in the workplace leading to inaction or missed opportunities to protect workers from injury.  

About Terry Bogyo:

Terry Bogyo

Terry is an active researcher, speaker and commentator on workers compensation issues. Now retired, he was the Director of Corporate Planning and Development for WorkSafeBC. His responsibilities included environmental scanning, strategic planning and inter-jurisdictional comparisons.

Terry says of himself: I am a student of workers' compensation systems. Many years ago I discovered two things about this area. First, workers' comp and OH&S are of vital importance to people. Protecting, caring for and providing compensation to workers are important, noble and morally responsible endeavors. The second thing I learned was that no matter how much I knew about workers' comp/OH&S, there was always so much more to learn. This is an endlessly challenging area of study. My purpose, therefore, is not to lecture, but to reflect on the ideas and issues that are topical in this area... and to invite others to share in a learning experience. By adding your knowledge and insights, others with similar interests can participate in the discovery and study of this important domain.

His blog is "Workers' Compensation Perspectives". 

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