Much of Google's core business involving Search, AdWords, and other consumer-oriented services relies on raters, people who provide feedback on many's of the company's products and services powered by its ever-evolving algorithms; algorithms that only keep evolving because their engineers can tweak them based on the feedback they receive or because that same feedback is processed by artificial intelligence (AI) solutions. In spite of Google's recent announcements about how it's transitioning to an "AI-first company," all of its AI-based endeavors are and likely will be reliant on humans for years to come and even when they're able to operate on their own, they'll still need human oversight and input, the latter of which cannot be obtained without thousands of raters, many of whom recently got their full-time working hours cut in half, effective this June.
To make matters more complicated, Google's raters aren't technically employed by the Alphabet-owned company but are instead contract workers from firms like Appen, ZeroChaos, Lionbridge, and Leapforce. A group of raters employed by the latter recently reached out to Ars Technica to share their story, describing how Leapforce announced its plans to cut their hours in early April, with the company's founder and CEO Daren Jackson claiming how approximately 20 percent of its workforce would be affected by the change that apparently couldn't have been prevented. That turn of events marked yet another issue for Google's raters that have revealed how the company's Raterhub online platform that's used for providing feedback on its products and services through tasks is often buggy and locks them out of performing tasks that are usually billed by minutes, with the maximum amount of billable time for each task being set by Google in advance. The imperfect system often leads them to lose billable hours that they can't make up for, and they also aren't compensated for the time they spend familiarizing themselves with frequent changes made to the company's book of guidelines.
Despite all of the complaints that Leapforce's contractors have with rating Google's products and services, most of them generally like their gigs that start at $13.50 per hour and can rise up to $17.40, which is above the minimum wage in the United States by a fair margin and still allows them to work from home. Due to that state of affairs, many raters recently spoke up about the Leapforce's plans to cut their working hours, especially in light of the fact that Leapforce is now seemingly pressured by Google to turn its independent contractors into employees. Sources say that Google didn't directly order Leapforce to do so but has instead notified the company that it only plans to continue outsourcing work to agencies that have employees, not contractors. As Leapforce is seemingly unable to pay for healthcare mandated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for all of its current contractors if it converts them to full-time employees, the company decided to cut the billable hours of a portion of its current workforce in order to stay compliant with the ACA and Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
This turn of events might spell issues for Google as some raters are now looking to be acknowledged as being jointly employed by both Leapforce and the Mountain View-based tech giant. In a hypothetical scenario in which they sue and a court acknowledges that Google and its outsourcing company are jointly responsible for their raters, the decision to cut their working hours might be a violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) despite the fact that all affected raters were technically contractors when Leapforce cut their billable hours as that decision was still driven by the goal of avoiding paying for employee benefits in the long term. While Google's initial decision to only work with employee-based outsourcing companies likely had a different outcome in mind, it will result in Leapforce's raters being promoted from contractors to employees which would theoretically be a positive change if it wouldn't lead to less working hours that will consequently prevent them from being eligible for any employee benefits.
While Leapforce likely isn't in any violation of the ERISA for cutting the working hours of its contractors before converting them to employees, Google might be if a competent court rules that the Mountain View-based Internet company has been jointly employing its raters with Leapforce. While the agency that Google uses for outsourcing work claims it has other clients, Jackson refused to name any when asked to do so, with some raters themselves claiming that all other projects that Leapforce is offering consist of basically no tasks and therefore aren't a reliable source of income, implying that the company relies solely on its relationship with Google to operate. This state of affairs and recent judicial trends that suggest U.S. courts are becoming increasingly more open to the concept of joint employment indicate that Leapforce's raters might have a basis to sue over being denied "protected rights" guaranteed by the ERISA.
In the end, a legal battle likely isn't something that Google, Leapforce, or any of the raters want, with the latter saying that they're only seeking to be recognized and acknowledged as people that are dependent on their personal income, yet are now being forced into a significantly less beneficial employee status after playing an integral role in the creation of Google's flagship products and services. Only time will tell how this situation will be resolved, but if Google's raters decided to take the company to court, any potential ruling against the Alphabet-owned firm could set a major precedent for cases pertaining to joint employment and related disputes.