Update: Uber’s Misclassification Cases, Arbitration, and the Supreme Court

Independent contractor vs employee Uber misclassification lawsuit arbitration agreements IMG_1111Remember the children’s game called Red Light, Green Light? One ambitious youngster is selected as the traffic cop, who randomly shouts “red light” or “green light,” requiring all the children to run and stop and start in short bursts that would cause an adult human to tear an ACL.

That’s essentially what’s happening in the big Uber misclassification case that has been pending in California since 2014. The case is called O’Connor v. Uber Technologies and is being overseen by traffic cop / federal judge Edward Chen in San Francisco. If anyone ever gets to the finish line, it will eventually be determined whether Uber drivers are properly classified as independent contractors, rather than employees.

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Drivers Rack Up Misclassification Settlements, While GrubHub Fights Back

In 1984, the Cars released a sad-sounding song called Drive. I assume it was about a guy longing for a girl, but it’s too depressing to listen to the whole thing. Throughout the song, Ric Ocasek asks “Who’s gonna drive you home tonight?” (Why the long face, Ric? Kidding.)

If you use a ride hailing service, chances are it’s an independent contractor driver who’s gonna drive you home. But in several high profile lawsuits, drivers have challenged their independent contractor status. While these suits have been in the news for years, there have been a recent flurry of high dollar settlements. Earlier this year, Lyft agreed to pay $27 million to a class of 95,000 drivers in California and Door Dash agreed to pay $5 million. Just last week, Postmates agreed to pay $8.75 million.

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Misclassification settlement strips $6 million from Club Assets

IMG_1090When I was an undergrad at Michigan, any time I would drive to the airport or to Tiger Stadium, I’d see billboards for Deja Vu, a strip club with (apparently) lots of locations. I never visited (not into that sort of thing, thanks for asking), and I never thought much of it. I certainly did not expect to be writing about Deja Vu and independent contractor misclassification 25 years later. But here goes.

When patrons of these fine establishments partake in the traditional lap dance, it’s doubtful they’re thinking about whether these often-single-mom “entertainers” who are just trying to make a living have been properly classified under wage and hour law. More likely, they’re thinking about — never mind.

But that’s an important issue, as Deja Vu recently learned, when it was sued by a class of 28,177 dancers alleging they were misclassified as independent contractors, rather than Continue reading

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.

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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.

© 2017 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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?

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