App-based cleaning company hit with worker lawsuit

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - On-demand cleaning company Handy Technologies was sued this week by a worker alleging she should be classified as an employee, the latest in a debate over whether workers in the sharing economy are independent contractors or employees entitled to benefits.

The proposed class action lawsuit, filed in a Massachusetts federal court on Tuesday, seeks reimbursement of expenses and minimum wages for Handy workers. The results of the broader legal battle could reshape the sharing economy, as companies say the contractor model allows for flexibility that many see as key to their success.

Last month, a California labor official found that one San Francisco-based driver for ride service Uber was an employee and entitled to expenses. An ultimate finding against companies like Handy and Uber could force them to pay Social Security, workers’ compensation, and unemployment insurance.

Maisha Emmanuel has worked as a Handy cleaner in the Boston area since last May and was often paid less than minimum wage, according to her lawsuit. One week she worked more than 30 hours and was paid only $14 because she had to buy a cleaning kit, the lawsuit said.

In a statement, Handy said its workers “make on average over $17 an hour per job” using its platform.

“We are creating opportunities for thousands of professionals who now have access to economic security for themselves and their families,” the company said.

Emmanuel’s case was filed by the same attorney who brought two similar, high profile lawsuits against Uber and Lyft. In the past year at least three lawsuits alleging worker misclassification have been filed against Handy, while competitor Homejoy has faced at least four, according to Westlaw dockets.

One of the cases against Handy is pending, another is in arbitration, and a third was withdrawn. The four cases against Homejoy are pending.

In May, technology blog Techcrunch reported that Handy was in acquisition talks for Homejoy. Homejoy representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.

Handy’s venture backers include TPG Growth, and last month the company announced it had reached one million customer bookings.

The lawsuit in U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts is Maisha Emmanuel vs. Handy Technologies Inc., 15-12914.

Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Bernard Orr