Crowdworkers are not employees: the Munich regional labour court and the industry 4.0

By Guido Voelkel, Gertrud Romeis, Dr. Catharina Klumpp, Julia Gottinger

01-2020

In its decision on 4th December 2019, the Munich regional labour court decided that crowdworkers are not employees. At least not if, as in the case at hand, they have the option to decline orders and do not have the obligation to follow instructions.

Background to the proceedings

Crowdworking is a relatively new phenomenon in the modern industry. As different as the activities performed by the crowd are, they are always based on the same principle. Companies commission a platform operator with a wide variety of small orders. The platform distributor in turn places these orders with "his" crowd, i.e. the users registered on his platform. Users can view orders in their surrounding via an app on their smartphone. If they accept them, they must execute the orders within a certain time frame in order to receive the corresponding remuneration. For example, if they upload pictures of the product display in supermarkets, provide data from their surrounding for navigation systems or check the prices of competitors for petrol station operators. Since the orders can often be completed with just a few clicks, the term "click economy" has also emerged.

In the proceedings at issue, the Roamler platform, which originated in the Netherlands and has its German office in Munich, had blocked access to its platform for one of its users following previous disagreements. The user objected to this on the grounds that an employment relationship had arisen between him and Roamler, and that this employment relationship still existed because the block did not fulfil the requirements for effective termination.

Crowdworkers lack personal dependency

The decisive criterion for the question of whether an employment relationship exists, and thus for a distinction between employees and self-employed persons, is the concept: personal dependency. This is primarily demonstrated by the fact that the employer determines the time, place and content of the respective service. The Munich regional labour court, like the Munich labour court before, regarded this personal dependence in the relationship between platform operator and user as not fulfilled, since it lacks an obligation of the Crowdworkers to accept the written out orders. In particular, it pointed out that such personal dependency does not follow from the fact that the plaintiff generates a significant part of his monthly income by working for Roamler. According to the current legal situation, such a “mere” economic dependence was not sufficient to establish an employment relationship.

Is everything clarified?

The Munich regional labour court’s judgment represents the first milestone in the legal classification of Crowdworkers in Germany. Nevertheless, the final word has not yet been spoken. Due to the fundamental importance of the question, the Court has approved the revision. If the plaintiff makes use of this possibility, it could even come to clarification through the Federal Labour Court.