The Legal Protection of Crowdworkers: Four Avenues for Workers’ Rights in the Virtual Realm

  • Jeremias Prassl
  • Martin Risak
Part of the Dynamics of Virtual Work book series (DVW)


The rapid ascent of crowdwork has caught regulators and lawyers off guard. Many platform operators assert that they are merely conduits, introducing independent contractors to their customers, far beyond the scope of employment law. In this chapter, a series of options are explored to ensure that crowdwork remains within (or is brought back into) the scope of employment and labor law. The avenues explored range from interpretative approaches rethinking the notions of employer and employee to the introduction or extension of intermediary categories (like workers or employee-like persons) to specific legislation dealing with the peculiarities of crowdwork.


Labor law Employment law Notion of employee Notion of employer Intermediary category Worker Employee-like person Crowdwork act 


  1. Adams, A., Freedland, M., & Prassl, J. (2015). The “zero-hours contract”: Regulating casual work, or legitimating precarity? Giornale di Diritto del Lavoro e di Relazioni Industriali, 147, 529–556.Google Scholar
  2. Brodil, W., Risak, M., & Wolf, C. (2016). Arbeitsrecht in Grundzügen (9th ed.). Wien: LexisNexis.Google Scholar
  3. Cohen, F. (1935). Transcendental nonsense and the functional approach. Columbia Law Review, 35, 809–822.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. De Stefano, V. (2016). The rise of the “just-in-time workforce”: On-demand work, crowdwork and labour protection in the “gig-economy”. Geneve: ILO.Google Scholar
  5. Deakin, S. (2001). The changing concept of the “employer” in labour law. Industrial Law Journal, 30, 72–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Eurofund. (2014). New forms of employment. Dublin: Eurofund.Google Scholar
  7. Felstiner, A. (2011). Working the crowd: Employment and labor law in the crowdsourcing industry. Berkeley Journal of Employment & Labor Law, 32, 143–204.Google Scholar
  8. Freedland, M. (2001). The personal employment contract. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Freedland, M., & Davies, P. (1983). Kahn-Freund’s labour and the law. London: Stevens & Sons.Google Scholar
  10. Fudge, J. (2006a). Fragmenting work and fragmenting organizations: The contract of employment and the scope of labour regulation. Osgoode Hall Law Journal, 44, 609–636.Google Scholar
  11. Fudge, J. (2006b). The legal boundaries of the employer, precarious workers, and labour protection. In G. Davidov & B. Langile (Eds.), Boundaries and frontiers of labour law (pp. 310–313). Portland: Hart.Google Scholar
  12. Harris, D. & Krueger, A. (2015). A proposal for modernizing labor laws for twenty-first century work: The “independent worker” (Hamilton Project, Discussion Paper 2015-10). Available at Accessed 3 Oct 2016.
  13. Leimeister, J., Zogaj, S., & Blohm, I. (2014). Crowdwork – digitale Wertschöpfung in der Wolke. In C. Benner (Ed.), Crowdwork – Zurück in die Zukunft. Frankfurt am Main: Bund Verlag.Google Scholar
  14. Lobel, O. (2016). The gig economy & the future of employment and labor law (USD Legal Studies Research Paper Series, Research Paper No. 16-223). San Diego. Available at Accessed 3 Nov 2016.
  15. Martin, D., et al. (2014) Being a Turker (Performing crowd work, CSCW’14, 15–19 Feb 2014). Accessed 3 Nov 2016.
  16. Nogler, L. (2009). Die Typologisch-Funktionale Methode am Beispiel des Arbeitnehmerbegriffs. ZESAR, 11, 459.Google Scholar
  17. Prassl, J. (2015). The concept of the employer. Oxford: Oxford Universtiy Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Prassl, J., & Risak, M. (2016). Uber, Taskrabbit, and Co.: Platforms as employers? Rethinking the legal analysis of crowdwork. Comparative Labor Law & Policy Journal, 37, 619–651.Google Scholar
  19. Risak, M. (2010). Austria, International Encyclopaedia for Labour Law and Industrial Relations). Alphen aan den Rijn: Wolters Kluwer.Google Scholar
  20. Rosenblum, M. (2013, June 5). The digital slave – That would be you. The Huffington Post. Accessed 3 Nov 2016.
  21. Schmidt, F. (2014). The good the bad and the ugly: Why crowdsourcing needs ethics. In C. Benner (Ed.), Crowdwork – Zurück in die Zukunft. Frankfurt am Main: Bund Verlag.Google Scholar
  22. Strube, S. (2014). Vom Outsourcing zum Crowdsourcing. In C. Benner (Ed.), Crowdwork – Zurück in die Zukunft. Frankfurt am Main: Bund Verlag.Google Scholar
  23. Weiss, M. & Schmidt, M. (2008). Germany (Fed. Rep.), International Encyclopaedia for Labour Law and Industrial Relations. Alphen aan den Rijn: Wolters Kluwer.Google Scholar
  24. Zyskowski, K. et al.(2015, March). Accessible crowdwork? Understanding the value in and challenge of microtask employment for people with disabilities (SIGCHI Conference Paper). Available at Accessed 3 Nov 2016.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeremias Prassl
    • 1
  • Martin Risak
    • 2
  1. 1.Faculty of Law and Magdalen CollegeUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  2. 2.Department of Labour Law and Law of Social SecurityUniversity of ViennaWienAustria

Personalised recommendations