Yelp Reviewers Are Not “Employees”


In a world where the lines between employees and volunteers/interns are becoming increasingly blurred, it is nice to see at least one court easily dispense with a wage and hour lawsuit.   On August 13, 2015, a federal judge in San Francisco dismissed a complaint seeking to establish a collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) for Yelp users who wrote online business reviews.  The suit claimed that such users are “employees” and that reviews appearing on the website constituted “work” for which they were unpaid.

The money quote from the decision is “[w]hile the statutory definition of employee is exceedingly broad … it does have its limits.  An individual who without promise or expectation of compensation, but solely for his personal purpose or pleasure, worked in activities carried on by other persons either for their pleasure or profit, is outside the sweep of the Act.”  The full decision can be found here.

The takeaway from this case is that there are (thankfully) some obvious limits to the definition of employee, even in the emerging arena of internet commerce.  With the high profile disputes over the employment status of Uber drivers and unpaid interns in the entertainment industry, the question of employment status is an important one which will not go away anytime soon.  Employers who use volunteers or contributors for online content (like Yelp) should make sure that the terms of use clearly specify that contributors are not employees, and that any contribution to the website is voluntary and solely for the contributor’s own purposes.

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About HR Headaches
HR Headaches is a blog for Human Resources professionals, business owners, and in-house counsel to get the latest news, analysis and tips in the area of labor and employment law. Every day there are new court decisions, agency interpretations, and regulations which affect the workplace, making it difficult, if not impossible, for many employers to keep current. HR Headaches is dedicated to providing information in a practical, no-nonsense manner to help employers avoid legal disputes and keep policies up to date.
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