16 Sep Are you a Yelp employee?
Last year, a group of Yelp reviewers whose accounts had been deactivated sued the website for back wages. The suit, labeled Lily Jeung et al v. Yelp Inc. claims that under the Fair Labor Standards Act, Yelp Elite members should be paid in line with the rarer Yelp Scouts and Ambassadors who are paid to write reviews for the site. An earlier suit — filed by the same lead plaintiff, Ms. Jeung, but with different attorneys last October — was dismissed in February.
The ex-reviewers claimed that they had performed the functions of an employee, with guidance and critique from Yelp management, by providing content that the site could sell ads against. Yelp hires Marketing Assistants, referred to as Scouts, to fill out the site in newly launched cities, update business information, and write initial business reviews. Yelp Elite members are unpaid, volunteer contributors to the site, but have the added burden of quotas for their review-writing, and bonus perks for those who do extra work. Also, Yelp Elites can be “fired,” or have their Elite status revoked, if they fail to meet certain criteria.
The current class action lawsuit argues not only must the wage-paid and non-wage-paid writers follow the exact same rules dictated by Yelp, but when looking at the profiles of the writers on Yelp’s website, there is no distinction made between them, other than a rare “Scout” or “Ambassador” badge for a wage-paid writer. This discretionary method of paying some employees wages, but not others, is in violation of the FLSA.
U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg dismissed the case. The Court was unclear as to what the plaintiffs sought. The original complaint seemed to ask for minimum wage for every Yelp review ever written. A reasonable inference to be drawn from the complaint, and from plaintiffs’ arguments, is plaintiffs use the term “hired” to refer to a process by which any member of the public can sign up for an account on the Yelp website and submit reviews, and the term “fired” to refer to having their accounts involuntarily closed, presumably for conduct that Yelp contends breached its terms of service agreement.
In summary, writing Yelp reviews is a voluntary activity that people do for fun. Even if Yelp does sell ads against user reviews, that does not necessarily mean that users are providing a service for Yelp, especially one nobody asked them to perform.