Franchises Continue to Fight Joint Employment Claims

IMG_1074.JPGAre franchisors responsible for the wage and hour violations of their individually owned franchisees?

This question continues to vex the courts. (Vex! Great Scrabble word!) Despite the promise of more pro-business policies from the current administration, lawsuits filed by employees against franchisors show no signs of slowing down. Here’s why.

When employees allege wage and hour violations against individually owned franchisees (your local store), such as a failure to properly pay overtime, the employees usually try to convert that lawsuit into a class action.

For plaintiffs’ law firms bringing these lawsuits, the bigger the class, the better. Storewide is good; statewide is better; nationwide is best. If we colonize Mars, interplanetary class actions are sure to follow.

In an effort to find the deepe$t pocket$ and create the largest possible class, plaintiffs’ firms often sue not only the individual stores that had the allegedly unlawful practice, but also the national franchisor — even if the franchisor had little or no control over local pay practices.

Court are then asked to evaluate the role that franchisors play in the day-to-day operations of individually owned franchised locations.

Franchisors argue that they are allowed to establish and enforce brand standards to ensure consistency of products across the country. A roast beef sub in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico should taste the same as a roast beef sub in Walla Walla, Washington.

Plaintiffs, on the other hand, generally point to franchisors’ corporate manuals and national standards as evidence of an employer-employee relationship between the national franchisor and employees of the individually owned store.

These battles continue to wage throughout the country, with large national franchisors being sued. Some courts have sided with franchisors, finding that the need to establish uniformity of product and appearance is the very nature of what a franchise is — rather than being evidence of joint employment. Other courts have been more sympathetic to plaintiffs and have allowed franchisors to be drawn into the fray.

Companies using a franchise model can proactively reduce the risks of joint employment by carefully deliniating what they can and cannot control, with respect to the operation of individually owned stores. Thoughtful planning can help franchisors to avoid lawsuits ot to mount a successful defense against class certification.

The franchise model remains under attack. Franchisors should plan accordingly and act preemptively to best position themselves to avoid or defend these types of claims.

Court Rejects Mandatory Arbitration for Independent Contractor Truckers

truck independent contractor arbitrationArbitration agreements can be an effective way to manage disputes with independent contractors. The Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) and Supreme Court decisions support arbitration as an efficient way to resolve disputes outside of the courtroom.

But what happens when an independent contractor with an arbitration agreement claims to have been misclassified as an employee? Can these disputes be forced into arbitration?

Usually yes, but this blog post by my colleague, John Lewis, highlights the limitations of arbitration agreements when applied to transportation workers. Although federal public policy — as articulated in the FAA — generally favors arbitration as a way to resolve disputes, Section 1 of the FAA lists a few situations where the FAA does not apply. One type of excluded dispute is over “contracts of employment” with transportation workers.

Are independent contractor agreements with owner-operator truckers “contracts of employment” with transportation workers? Continue reading

Independent Contractor vs. Employee, Hit List by Industry, 2016-2017

img_1044Are you on the hit list?

The highest concentration of independent contractor misclassification lawsuits during the past 12 months seem to be in these areas:

  • Agricultural workers
  • Beauty consultants (sales)
  • Cable installers
  • Car services (passengers, ride-hailing services)
  • Computer programmers
  • Construction workers
  • Consultants (various industries)
  • Couriers
  • Delivery drivers (food, goods, freight)
  • Exotic dancers (strippers)
  • Freelance writer/reporters/other journalism
  • Information technology workers
  • Installers (cabinets, appliances, windows, furniture)
  • Insurance sales representatives
  • Janitorial franchise owners (individuals)
  • Maintainance workers
  • Newspaper carriers
  • Performers (actors, cheerleaders, wrestlers)
  • Physicians
  • Property inspection services
  • Repair technicians
  • Sales representatives
  • Travel agents
  • Truck drivers
  • Yoga instructors

This list should not in any way suggest that the categories of workers in this list should be employees. That determination will depend on the facts in any given situation. All of these types of workers, however, have been plaintiffs in recent lawsuits alleging that they were misclassified as independent contractors and should have been deemed employees.

Companies who retain these types of workers as independent contractors should take proactive steps to evaluate the facts in these relationships, particularly under the variety of federal and state law tests that may apply. Companies should also remember that because different tests apply to different laws, workers may be properly classified as independent contractors under some laws and some tests, but may be deemed employees under other laws and other tests.

Joint Employment Tests Are All Wrong, Says Federal Appeals Court

Fourth Circuit Adopts More Liberal Joint Employment Test Than NLRB’s Browning-Ferris Decision

IMG_1045(This article originally appeared in Corporate Counsel on March 1, 2017. Click here to view the original.)

Are 59 years of joint employment rulings all wrong? Yes, says a federal appeals court in a landmark Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) decision issued in late January.

Relying on a 1958 Department of Labor (DOL) regulation, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has rewritten the test for joint employment, defining the concept so expansively that every outsourced and staffing agency relationship might be deemed joint employment under the FLSA. The decision in Salinas v. Commercial Interiors, issued unanimously by a three-judge panel (all Obama appointees), takes a more radical position on joint employment than even the NLRB took in its controversial 2015 Browning-Ferris decision.

The Court of Appeals concludes that everybody – including the DOL itself – has been misinterpreting the DOL’s joint employment regulation for 59 years.

Is that possible? Can the Court literally mean that? Or is this an example of the adage, “bad facts make bad law”? The facts in Salinas suggest there was probably a joint employment relationship under any test. It remains to be seen how this test will be applied and whether decades of court decisions and DOL guidance will truly be disregarded.

Meanwhile, employers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia are immediately and directly impacted, since these are the states that the Fourth Circuit covers.

What Happened?

Continue reading

Boom? Is the California Supreme Court About to Blow Up the Test for Independent Contractor Relationships?

california-independent-contractor-dynamex-boomThe California Supreme Court may be about to rewrite the test for Who Is My Employee? under California wage and hour law.

Independent contractor relationships that have stood the test of time may be in jeopardy.  And I don’t mean the (mildly?) entertaining Alex Trebek kind of Jeopardy. We’re talking real economic upheaval and uncertainty — worse than Schwarzenegger taking over Celebrity Apprentice.

Here’s the issue: Continue reading

Strippers Have No Class, Judge Rules

We’ve seen lots of exotic dancer cases lately (clarification for my wife: seen lots of cases, not dancers) where the dancers — apparently this is the preferred legal term for strippers — claim they have been misclassified as independent contractors.

employment-class-action-blogMany of these claims have succeeded, but here’s an unusual way to lose class action status. This judge refused to certify the proposed class because of lack of experience of counsel. Thanks to my colleague, Greg Mersol (experienced counsel), for this post. Class dismissed!

Unlikely Lessons in Legal History, Edition 1.
Why lawyers use the term “exotic dancer” instead of stripper:

Lawyer’s Wife:  Were you out cavorting with strippers again?

Lawyer:  No.

Why Misclassification Matters

Uh Oh!

hamster-uh-oh

With a finding of worker misclassification, the workers you thought were not your employees are suddenly deemed your employees.  What does that mean practically?  It means that you have not been complying with all of the laws that apply to employees.

Continue reading