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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G-L-O-R-I-A! California Court says to use different tests for different IC misclassification claims

California independent contractor misclassification tests

If someone were to ask whether you like the song, “Gloria,” you’d be right to ask, “Which version?”

There’s the version written by Van Morrison and recorded by his band Them, later covered by Patti Smith, The Doors, and a gaggle of others. That’s the version that goes, “G-L-O-R-I-A, Gloooooria!” (I’m gonna shout it out every day.)

Then there’s the version recorded by Laura Branigan in 1982, originally written in Italian by Umberto Tozzi. (Fun fact!) You know that one — “You’re always on the run now. Running after somebody, you gotta get him somehow.”

Of course the right answer is that you prefer the first version, but my point is that there are multiple versions of “Gloria.” Same name, different song.

This is the same approach California courts seem to be taking with the state’s test for Independent Contractor vs. Employee. Same question, different tests. Many of you will recall the April 2018 Dynamex decision, in which the California Supreme Court adopted a strict ABC Test for determining whether a worker is an employee under California’s Industrial Wage Orders.

But the Dynamex decision did not address whether the new ABC Test would be used to determine whether someone is a contractor or an employee under California’s other state labor laws. Now we know.

The answer, according to a California Court of Appeal decision last week, is that there’s room for both “G-L-O-R-I-A” and “You’re always on the run now.” (You’re welcome, Laura Branigan.)

In last week’s case, called Garcia v. Border Transportation Group, the court considered an eight-count complaint brought by a taxicab driver who had been treated as an independent contractor. The driver claimed he should have been treated as an employee and that various state laws, which apply only to employees, were not followed. The court ruled that different tests apply to different claims.

The Court ruled that the claims brought under California’s Industrial Wage Orders had to be evaluated under the Dynamex ABC Test and, for these claims, the driver had to be considered an employee. The claims subject to the Dynamex test were the claims alleging unpaid wages, failure to pay minimum wage, failure to provide meal and rest periods, failure to furnish itemized wage statements, and the unfair competition (UCL) claims arising out of the wage order violations.

On the other hand, the driver’s claims for wrongful termination in violation of public policy, waiting time penalties, and the UCL claims stemming from these allegations had to be evaluated under the more traditional S.G. Borello balancing test, which includes elements of a Right to Control Test but incorporates other factors too, making it a hybrid test. Under the S.G. Borello standard, the Court ruled that the driver was properly classified as an independent contractor.  (The plaintiff alleged failure to pay overtime too. Typically, overtime claims are governed by the Industrial Wage Orders, but the overtime rules do not apply to taxicab drivers.)

For those who like score cards, here is a list showing (a) the claims that were filed, and (b) which test must be used to determine Independent Contractor vs. Employee under each claim, according to the Garcia case. I have color-coded the claims because it looks pretty:

1. Wrongful termination in violation of public policy. (Lab. Code, §§ 923 [employees may organize], 6310 [retaliation for an OSHA complaint], 6400 [duty to provide a safe work environment], 1102.5 [whistleblower protection].)  S.G. Borello balancing test

2. Unpaid wages under the wage order. (Cal. Code Regs, tit. 8, § 11090.)  Dynamex ABC Test

3. Failure to pay minimum wage. (Lab. Code, §§ 1182.12 [minimum wage], 1194 [right of action], 1194.2 [liquidated damages], 1197 [duty to pay minimum wage].)  Dynamex ABC Test

4. Failure to pay overtime. (Lab. Code, §§ 510 [overtime], 1194 [right of action].) – Not applicable

5. Failure to provide meal and rest breaks. (Lab. Code, §§ 226.7 [rest periods], 512 [meal breaks].) Dynamex ABC Test

6. Failure to furnish accurate wage statements. (Lab. Code, §§ 226 [wage statements], 226.3 [civil penalties], 2699 [PAGA penalties].) Dynamex ABC Test

7. Waiting time penalties. (Lab. Code, §§ 201−202 [wages and leave due upon departure], 203 [penalties].) S.G. Borello balancing test

8. Unfair competition (UCL), based on the foregoing violations. (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17200 et seq.; Lab. Code, § 2699 [PAGA penalties].) Dynamex ABC Test for the alleged violations of the wage order; S.G. Borello balancing test for the other claims

 

That’s the state of the law at this moment, but of course the California Supreme Court could weigh in again later as to whether S.G. Borello should still be used at all.

The explanation given in the Garcia case, though, for why the different tests should be used for different claims makes perfect sense. The definition of employee in Dynamex is broader than in the other statutes, as the California Supreme Court explained in the Dynamex decision.

So there you have it. Different definition of employee, different tests.

Shout it out all night!

Shout it out every day!

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

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Truckers Fight to Preserve Independent Contractor Status, But Appellate Rulings Create Uncertainty

independent contractor driver trucking faaaa

Big Mutha Truckers was a 2002 video racing game in which four sibling truckers compete to make deliveries in fictional Hick County, with the most successful driver inheriting the family business. I had never heard of the game until now, but apparently it  was not very successful and is panned thoroughly by whoever spent precious life-minutes writing a comprehensive Wikipedia entry about this game, time that the author sadly will never be able to recover.

The real life trucking industry has its own problems, and they extend far beyond Hick County. The independent contractor owner-operator model, which has been common in the transportation industry for decades, is under attack. The situation is most critical on the West Coast, and owner-operator drivers are taking action to protect their livelihood — and their independent contractor status.

The Coalition for Independent Truckers announced the formation of a new Independent Contractor Ambassador program. The program’s mission is to protect the independent contractor/owner-operator model in the trucking industry. It aims to educate policymakers, the media, and the general public on the value of the independent  contractor model.

Three recent court decisions will it more difficult for these drivers to preserve their independent contractor status.

Last week, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Illinois* state wage laws may be applied to professional motor carrier drivers, even though federal law is supposed to override state laws that are “related to” motor carrier prices, routes, or services.

Earlier this month, The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that California’s meal and rest break laws may be applied in the motor carrier industry, despite federal law that seems to pre-empt state law in that field.

The Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (FAAAA) prevents states from enacting laws that are “related to” motor carrier prices, routes, or services. It seems hard to imagine that California’s mandatory meal and rest breaks (at issue in the 9th Circuit case) would not affect services and routes. Illinois wage law (at issue in the Third Circuit case) seems like a closer call.

Other federal courts have ruled that states cannot apply their wage and hour rules to motor carrier drivers because of FAAAA preemption. For example, a the First Circuit Court of Appeals previously ruled that Massachusetts’ ABC Test could not be applied to owner-operator drivers, since the state law test was preempted by the FAAAA.

But these new decisions from the Third and Ninth Circuits go the other way, saying that the state laws at issue do not sufficiently “relate” and therefore are not preempted by the FAAAA. These rulings create uncertainty and inconsistency across the industry, with different rules applying to interstate drivers in different locations. That’s what the FAAAA and other federal transportation laws aim to prevent.

This is an issue to watch. The Supreme Court may soon be called upon to resolve the circuit split. The national transportation industry relies heavily on the use of independent contractor owner-operators. These two appellate decisions make it increasingly difficult for legitimate independent contractor owner-operators to maintain their independent contractor status. Instead, these professional drivers may be subjected to reclassification as employees under some state laws, despite working in an industry that federal law tries to pre-empt,

Keep an eye on this one. Unlike Big Mutha Truckers, this saga will not be derailed by “repetitive gameplay, dated graphics, and lackluster sound.”

*Not an error. Yes, the case was decided in the Third Circuit, even though it relates to Illinois law.

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

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Arbitration Agreements Save Uber From Massive Class Action

uber victory arbitration agreements 2018

Two themes are often repeated in this blog: (1) Independent contractor relationships are under attack, and (2) there are a lot of things companies can do to protect themselves, but they need to be proactive, not wait until they get sued. I’ve also tried themes relating to song titles – like here (Led Zeppelin) and here (Tom Petty) – but that’s kind of not the point I’m trying to make right now.

These two themes came together nicely this week in a major ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Uber earned a big win, thanks to its arbitration agreements and a May 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision confirming that mandatory arbitration agreements should be enforced.

Uber has been a favorite target of the plaintiffs’ bar in independent contractor misclassification lawsuits. Uber has been trying to defeat class claims by asking courts to enforce the mandatory arbitration agreements signed by most of its drivers.

That fight has been going on since 2013, when a federal court in California rejected Uber’s bid to enforce its arbitration agreements. The California judge certified a class of 160,000 drivers, then certified another subclass of drivers, creating a massive class action that Uber tried to settle for $100 million. The judge in that case rejected the settlement as too small, but Uber’s long game in court appears to have paid off.

After the judge rejected the proposed settlement, the case was to proceed; but, remember, the judge had also rejected Uber’s attempt to enforce the arbitration agreements, which would have kept the matter out of court entirely. If the arbitration agreements were enforced, the drivers would have to litigate their claims individually, one-by-one, with no individual driver’s claim worth all that much money. The attractiveness of these claims for plaintiffs’ lawyers is in the massive dollars generated by consolidating tens of thousands of individual claims into class actions. Individual arbitrations do not have much lure.

In this week’s Court of Appeals decision, the arbitration agreements were upheld as valid and enforceable. Uber will not have to face this class action of 160,000+ California drivers. The jackpot settlement of $100 million is gone, and the drivers who wish to go forward will now have to pursue their claims drip-drip-drip, one-by-one, with only small amounts of money at issue in each case.

This ruling became inevitable after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Epic Systems decision in May 2018, which held that individual employee arbitration agreements are generally enforceable and do not violate workers’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act.

Based on the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had no choice but to rule that Uber’s arbitration agreements were indeed enforceable, overturning the district court judge’s 2013 decision that said they were not.

The plaintiffs tried to argue that since one of the lead plaintiffs opted out of arbitration, the entire potential class should be viewed as if everyone opted out of arbitration. But the Court was having none of that. A single class representative plaintiff doesn’t have the authority to cancel thousands of other contracts that he wasn’t a part of.

The lesson here is that arbitration agreements work. They are a potent weapon in defending against and preventing massive class action risks, especially for companies that rely heavily on independent contractors for their business model.

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

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“Maybe Later”: California Legislature Declines Business Community’s Request to Fix ABC Test

California ABC Test legiuslative efforts fail 2018

Peter Gabriel’s 1986 album, So, includes the song “Don’t Give Up.” It is a mournful duet with Kate Bush that must not be included on anyone’s workout playlist. The blend of an inspirational title and weepy output, though, seems appropriate for this post.

Today we’re following up on the state of independent contractor misclassification in California, five months after the Dynamex decision and its contractor-hatin’ ABC Test.

This summer, in response to Dynamex, California businesses that rely on independent contractor gig workers engaged in a coordinated effort to persuade the California legislature to suspend the Dynamex ruling and to reinstate a common sense balancing test for determining Independent Contractor vs. Employee.

For now, they have failed.

California’s 2018 legislative session just ended. The Democratically controlled Assembly and Senate declined to consider any legislation that would affect the Dynamex ruling and its new ABC Test.

In a recent interview with California’s Capital Public Radio, three weeks before the legislative session closed, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon admitted that he is a much weaker hitter than the Washington Nationals third baseman who shares his name and has 19 more home runs this year than the Speaker. (Actual quote unavailable.) But, more relevant to this post, Rendon also said that there would be no action this year on legislation to define Who Is My Employee?

“Ultimately, this decision is about the future of the way work looks. And that requires us to be thoughtful and deliberate,“ Rendon said. “And there’s no way we can be thoughtful and deliberate in three weeks.”

Senate President pro tem Toni Atkins, who may or may not have been in the late-80s-early-90s soul/R&B group Tony! Toni! Toné!, expressed similar sentiments: “The California Supreme Court voted unanimously for this new test. I agree with Speaker Rendon that forging any legislative review or response to their decision in just three weeks isn’t workable.”

Let’s break that down.

When my oldest daughter was little and didn’t want to do something, she developed a polite way of saying “no f-ing way.”  She’d say, “Maybe later.”  We all knew what that meant.

I am hearing the same thing from Rendon and Atkins when they say that three weeks wasn’t enough time to draft new legislation. All they had to do was reinstate the status quo before Dynamex, which was a well-established balancing test for determining whether someone is an employee or an independent contractor.

But instead they gave us the legislative equivalent of “maybe later.” I won’t be putting that on my workout playlist either. And it’s not gonna get worked out any time soon. The ABC Test in California is here to stay. (Cue weepy mournful background music.)

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

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Beware of Classwide Arbitration: Instacart Case Might Allow It

Instacart arbitration decision allowing class actions

Did that photo make you want to eat a pumpkin right now? (Probably not.)

🍿🍩🍰🍦🍨 Do these emojis make you hungry?

Does this one 🍺 make you wish the workday was over?

Fortunately for those who like instant gratification, driving services like Instacart promise to connect you with contractors who will go grocery shopping for you and will deliver the bounty to your house. This is not an ad for Instacart, though. This is a post about arbitration.

You see, like many other delivery app companies, Instacart’s drivers are independent contractors. Also like many other delivery app companies, Instacart gets sued for independent contractor misclassification. Wisely, Instacart has all contractors sign arbitration agreements.

One of the most significant benefits of arbitration agreements for companies is the opportunity to insert a clause that waives the right to bring any class/collective action claims. All claims must be brought individually — but only if that waiver language is clearly stated in the contract.

Instacart may have had an Oops!

In a pending case alleging independent contractor misclassification, the arbitrator has ruled (preliminarily) that the driver bringing the claim may bring a class/collective action. Instacart said, Whahhh?, and asked a California court to intervene and to rule that the arbitrator was overstepping his authority.

Arbitrators, though, are pretty well insulated from court review. That’s usually a plus, but it can also be a minus. For Instacart, it’s a minus here.

The California court ruled that it has no jurisdiction to intervene. It cannot review that preliminary decision by an arbitrator. Rather, a court can only review an arbitrator’s decision under very limited circumstances, mainly only after there has been an “award.” Instacart appealed but fared no better. The California Court of Appeals agreed.

The Court of Appeals, like the court below, ruled that the arbitrator’s decision to allow class arbitration is not an “award,” and the court cannot intervene. The arbitration must continue under the jurisdiction of the arbitrator. Only when the case is done will the court take a look.

This decision should serve as a reminder of two important points:

  1. In arbitration agreements with independent contractors, it is important to include a carefully drafted clause that waives the right to file or participate in a class or collective action. The clause should also state that the arbitrator has no jurisdiction to consider a class or collective action. These clauses need to be unambiguous.
  2. When parties agree to arbitrate, the arbitrator has a lot of power, and the preliminary rulings of an arbitrator are generally not subject to court review (except in limited circumstances). When you choose arbitration, you’re all in.

The case is in its very early stages, so we’ll see what happens. But there are some early lessons to be learned here. Congratulations. You made it to the end of the post. Now you can go eat.

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

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Does California’s ABC Test Violate Federal Law? Truckers Sue, Saying It Does

Trucker Dynamex ABC Test California

The 1976 song, Convoy, is about a fictional trucker rebellion, protesting the 55 mph speed limit, tolls, and mandatory log books to ensure that drivers limit their hours. The song is full of trucker slang and includes CB conversations among Rubber Duck, Pig Pen, and Sodbuster. The truckers crash road blocks and flee the police and reinforcements from the Illinois National Guard. Here’s a fun little article about how this truckers’ protest anthem became a hit single.

The truckers are protesting again.

On July 19, the Western States Trucking Association filed a federal lawsuit, alleging that the California Supreme Court’s new ABC Test (set forth in the Dynamex case) for Continue reading