I just finished reading The Longest Day, the 1959 book by Cornelius Ryan that tells the story of the D-Day landing from Allied, French, and German perspectives. The book covers June 6, 1944 and the days leading up to it, but it doesn’t get into what happened next. To facilitate supply lines into Europe right after D-Day, the British built two artificial harbors off the Normandy coast. Mulberry Harbours A and B allowed for the transport of up to 7,000 tons of vehicles and supplies to the mainland each day.
A harbor is a place where ships can seek shelter from the open ocean. Switching our focus to peacetime and the law, a “safe harbor” is the legal term for a provision that protects against liability if you meet certain conditions. No ships are required. Know the required conditions, and you can find shelter from a legal storm.
Two states recently passed laws that create safe harbors against claims of independent contractor misclassification.
Businesses using independent contractors in West Virginia and Louisiana should update their contracts immediately to take advantage of these new statutes.
Each state’s law provides a list of conditions that, if met, will make someone an independent contractor, providing a safe harbor against claims that these workers are misclassified and should be employees. The LA law creates a presumption of contractor status; the WV law is conclusive.
One of the conditions in WV, for example, is that the written contract “states…that the person understands” a list of five specific facts. The contract needs to “state” these five things. The WV law has other requirements too.
The LA law requires that 6 of a possible 11 conditions are met to fall within the safe harbor.
Other states are considering similar laws. Missouri and North Carolina are considering similar bills. Oklahoma was headed down the same road during the last legislative section but has not yet passed a bill.
Businesses using independent contractors in these states should amend their agreements to take advantage of these safe harbor opportunities.
At a time when the federal government is pledging to crack down further on independent contractor misclassification, it’s important to have contracts that are built to withstand classification challenges by any governmental body. Even under federal law, which doesn’t have these safe harbors, these recitations can be helpful when trying to meet the Right to Control and Economic Realities Tests used in federal law and in most states.
Your agreements with independent contractors provide an opportunity to build your defense against claims of misclassification. They should not be treated as a mere formality.
You want to be able to point to your agreements as Exhibit 1 in your defense against a misclassification claim. Play offense, not defense. Adding the WV and LA clauses — and even the proposed NC and MO clauses — can go a long way toward protecting your independent contractor relationships.
You might not be into reading books about World War II and that’s ok. But please read your contracts carefully. Now is a great time to amend and improve independent contractor agreements.
© 2021 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.