It happens every year.
When the temperature in Florida drops into the 30s, the iguanas freeze. Unable to regulate their body temperature, they drop out of trees, landing on sidewalks and in yards like solid rubber toy animals.
The freeze doesn’t kill them though. It just stuns them for a while, then they eventually warm up, reanimate, and go about their daily iguana business.
Getting stunned like this can’t be avoided for the iguanas. Amazon is not yet selling iguana jackets, and online delivery to lizards is notoriously complicated. (Note to self: Business opportunity?)
But unlike iguanas, businesses can reduce their chances at getting stunned — at least when it comes to avoiding lawsuits from staffing agency workers.
When staffing agency workers file wage and hour lawsuits, they often sue both the staffing agency and the business where they worked. The workers allege that both are joint employers, often bringing class claims or a collective action.
Businesses that carefully draft their staffing agency agreements will have some natural defenses against these claims. I’ve written about that here. I call this strategy The Monster with Three Eyes.
But there’s a fourth strategy too. Force individual staffing agency workers to arbitrate these claims instead of pursuing them in court, and include class action waivers with the agreement to arbitrate.
There are two ways to introduce arbitration agreements with class waivers in your staffing agency agreements.
First, you can mandate that staffing agencies sign arbitration agreements with their own employees. Some courts have found that arbitration agreements between a staffing agency and its employee protect the third party business too, even if the third party hasn’t signed the agreement.
But that approach carries risk. The agency’s arbitration agreement might be poorly written, or it might include terms that make it unenforceable. Your protection is only as good as whatever form agreement the agency presents to their workers.
There’s a second approach I like better. It goes like this:
- Draft your own individual arbitration agreement (with class waiver) for staffing agency workers to sign, requiring them to arbitrate any claims against you. Make it mutual, of course.
- Append it to the staffing agency agreement as an exhibit.
- Include a clause in the staffing agency agreement requiring the agency not to assign anyone to your business unless they’ve first signed this agreement.
The agreement will be short. No more than two pages. It can also include an agreement by the agency worker to protect your confidential information and assign inventions.
If the document is properly characterized as an offer by your business, accepted by the worker, you have offer plus acceptance equals contract — even if your business doesn’t sign it. There is specific language you can include that can make that work.
So if you use staffing agency workers, don’t assume you won’t get sued as a joint employer. You particularly want to avoid class and collective actions, and this type of arbitration agreement will do the trick.
Plan for bad weather in advance. Include this layer of protection with your staffing agency agreements. Consider it your own little iguana jacket.
© 2022 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.