What It Means to “Suffer” in California, Independent Contractor Version

suffer or permit to work California

This article describes how gestures that are common in the U.S. can have very different meanings abroad. For example, the “ok” finger gesture is a vulgar bodily reference in Brazil, Germany, and Russia. (Not ok!) The thumbs up gesture in Greece or the Middle East can mean “up yours!” The University of Texas’s “hook ‘em horns” gesture in Italy means you’ve been cuckolded — your wife is cheating on you.

Same thing, different meaning.

To employers, California often feels like a foreign country. It has some of the most employee-friendly laws in the nation, creating migraines for multi-state employers. When it comes to interpreting legal phrases, California lives up to its reputation, especially in the Employee vs. Independent Contractor context.

Today we look at California’s definition of “employ” as it relates to determining whether someone is an employee or an independent contractor.

California’s wage and hour laws are set forth in the state’s Industrial Wage Orders, a bulky set of directives that set the rules for minimum wage, overtime, meal and rest breaks, and various record keeping requirements for California employers. These rules apply only to employees, not independent contractors, but the test for determining Who Is My Employee? in California is different than under any federal law.

California’s Industrial Wage Orders use the same language to define “employ” as used in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). But fittingly, the Republic of California applies a different meaning to the same phrase.

California’s wage and hour laws provide three alternative definitions for “employ”: (1) to exercise control over the wages, hours, or working conditions, (2) to suffer or permit to work, or (3) to engage, thereby creating a common law employment relationship.

The FLSA also defines “employ” as “to suffer or permit to work.”

On Monday, we described how the FLSA’s “suffer or permit” standard is applied when determining whether someone is an employee or an independent contractor.

Today’s post describes California’s test for the same phrase. It’s different. Hook ‘em horns.

Historically, California courts have rejected the federal interpretation of “suffer or permit” as not being broad enough. California courts interpret the phrase more literally. If you permit someone to work, that person is likely your employee.

In April 2018, California’s Supreme Court set up a test that cemented that expansive interpretation into law.

In Dynamex Operations West v. Superior Court, the California Supreme Court ruled that, to determine whether someone is an employee or an independent contract, an ABC Test must be used.

An ABC Test sets a higher bar than a Right to Control Test or an Economic Realities Test. It also sets a higher bar than California’s S.G. Borello test, which is the hybrid Right to Control/Economic Realities Test that California had been using since 1989 to answer the Employee vs. Independent Contractor question.

California’s ABC Test starts with the presumption that, for claims covered under California wage orders, every worker is an employee. Then, to prove otherwise, the business retaining that worker must prove (all 3):

(A) the worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of the work and in fact, and

(B) the worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business, and

(C) the worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business.

Fail just one part, and the worker is an employee under California wage and hour law. This new test is even stricter than most other states’ ABC Tests, which usually include two ways that Part B can be satisfied.

As of now, the Dynamex test applies only to claims brought under California wage orders, we think.  These claims generally include minimum wage, overtime, and meal and rest break claims. So far, this test does not appear to apply to claims such as failure to reimburse expenses or failure to provide employee benefits.

© 2018 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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