Misled: Gov’t Study Claims Contingent Workforce is Shrinking. False.

Contingent workforce study resultsDespite what you might think from having attended myriad weddings, bar mitzvahs, or other parties, Kool & the Gang has songs other than “Celebration.” (I had to look this up to verify.) One such song is called “Misled.” It includes lyrics like, “She’s as heavy as a Chevy” and “So enticing, he’s sure to take a bite.”

The video hilariously begins with our hero washing his face in the sink – a surefire way, if there ever was one, to heighten suspense and draw the audience in.

Also to draw you in, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) headlined its just-released study on the contingent workforce by concluding that the number of contingent workers is declining compared to 2005. Whah?

Don’t be misled. (She is not, in fact, as heavy as a Chevy.) BLS’s methodology is flawed and confusing. The study counts only people’s primary jobs. So the hundreds of thousands of people who hold regular jobs and drive for ride sharing apps on the side? Not counted.

Why not? Great question. BLS published a whole page of Q&A, but BLS did not tackle that question, the most obvious of them all.

What does this study tell us? Not much.

We know that the number of workers in the gig economy is vastly greater than in 2005. The year 2005 was before Uber and before Lyft (and before the release of the 2007 studio album Still Kool). The contingent workforce has not shrunk since the gig economy emerged. So if you read a headline that includes the surprising conclusion that the contingent workforce is shrinking, don’t be misled.

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

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What is California’s new ABC Test, and What Does It Mean for Businesses?

Dynamex ABC test california

What just happened?

Last week, we reported here on the California Supreme Court’s Dynamex decision. Today’s post takes a deeper dive.

In Dynamex, the California Supreme Court adopted one of the strictest tests in the nation for determining whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. The new test is used to determine whether a worker is an “employee” under California’s Industrial Wage Commission (IWC) wage orders. The wage orders require “employees” to be paid minimum wage and overtime, and to receive meal and rest breaks (unless exempt). Under this new test, a lot of independent contractors might now be “employees.”

The new test is an ABC Test. Unlike the balancing tests that start with the scales set equally, the new Dynamex ABC Test begins with the presumption that any worker performing services for your business is your employee. Guilty until proven innocent.

To overcome that presumption, the business must meet all three prongs of the new ABC Test. To prove that the worker is an independent contractor (and that the California wage orders do not apply), the business must be able to show:

(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.

If the business fails to meet all three prongs of this test, the worker is an employee for purposes of the wage orders. Case closed. Done deal. The other factors don’t even matter.

What does that mean? You must provide the worker a minimum wage, overtime, and meal and rest breaks (subject to exemptions, if applicable). It doesn’t matter that you have an Independent Contractor Agreement, and it doesn’t matter if the worker agrees to be an independent contractor status. (Here’s why.)

What was the basis for the California Supreme Court’s decision?

The Court’s decision was based on its analysis of the definition of “employ” under the IWC wage orders. The Court concluded that this definition was intended to cover a broader range of relationships than common law employer-employee relationships.

The wage orders define employ as “to engage, suffer, or permit to work.” This language originated in 1916, with the passage of state laws designed to prevent the exploitation of child laborers. The idea was that if you allow children to work for you, you are going to follow certain legal requirements. To prevent funny business, an intentionally broad definition of “employ” was used.

Those familiar with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) will recall that it too uses a broader definition of “employ” than most other federal laws. The FLSA definition of employ is “to suffer or permit to work.” That sure sounds a lot like the California definition, so shouldn’t California just apply the same Economic Realities Test as used to determine whether someone is an employee under the FLSA? Oh, my dear sweet naive friend, that would be too simple. And California doesn’t like simple.

The California Supreme Court went out of its way to point out that California came up with its language first and that it never intended to follow the FLSA test. Really, it says that. So there.

In Dynamex, the California Supreme Court concluded that where the definition of “employ” is “to engage, suffer, or permit to work,” the intent is to cover a broader range of individuals than common law employees and, from now on, the way to determine whether someone is an “employee” under the “engage, suffer, or permit to work” standard is to apply the new ABC Test. The IWC wage orders use this broad definition, and so the wage orders will now apply to any relationship where an individual provides services, unless all three prongs of the ABC Test are met.

But why change now?

If you are asking yourself why the test would change now — when that same definition has been in place for 102 years, when there has been no new law passed by the California legislature, and when no new regulations have been enacted — the answer is what you tell your kids when you’re too tired to explain why: Because I said so.

Really. The Court just said so. Nothing in the law has changed. The new, strict ABC Test did not come from a new law. It came from Massachusetts. Thank you, Massachusetts. Next time just send lobster rolls.

What about the other wacky California employment laws?

Most California employment laws use a more traditional definition of employee, not the broad “engage, suffer, or permit to work” definition. Under these other laws, therefore, the test for determining whether someone is an employee is (we think) unchanged. For the most part, the S.G. Borello test should continue to apply.

The S.G. Borello test stems from a 1989 California Supreme Court decision and is a hybrid Right to Control/Economic Realities balancing test.

Under S.G. Borello, the primary question is whether the hiring party retains the right to control the worker, both as to the work done and the manner and means in which it is performed. If yes, the worker is an employee. If it is unclear, then secondary factors are considered.

Secondary factors include:

1. Whether the person performing services is engaged in an occupation or business distinct from that of the principal;
2. Whether or not the work is a part of the regular business of the principal or alleged employer;
3. Whether the principal or the worker supplies the instrumentalities, tools, and the place for the person doing the work;
4. The alleged employee’s investment in the equipment or materials required by his or her task or his or her employment of helpers;
5. Whether the service rendered requires a special skill;
6. The kind of occupation, with reference to whether, in the locality, the work is usually done under the direction of the principal or by a specialist without supervision;
7. The alleged employee’s opportunity for profit or loss depending on his or her managerial skill;
8. The length of time for which the services are to be performed;
9. The degree of permanence of the working relationship;
10. The method of payment, whether by time or by the job; and
11. Whether or not the parties believe they are creating an employer-employee relationship may have some bearing on the question, but is not determinative since this is a question of law based on objective tests.

The court or agency then mixes all of these factors into a witch’s cauldron, blends them together, sprinkles in a pinch of eye of newt, waits for the smoke to clear, and then declares that, based on an analysis of the multiple factors, the worker must be an … (insert answer here). The S.G. Borello test is a balancing test, subject to interpretation. It’s gray.

California does have some other strict tests. The Dynamex ABC Test is not the only one. For example, strict tests apply in the construction industry and for the performance of work where a license is required but not obtained. Under those scenarios, like under IWC wage orders, it’s much harder to maintain independent contractor status than it is under a law that applies the S.G. Borello test.

What about federal laws? Do those still apply too?

Hahahahahahaha! You bet they do! Employers in California are still required to follow the FLSA, which determines whether someone is an employee by using an Economic Realities Test. Yes, lucky California business owners, this means your worker could be an employee under the strict ABC Test imposed by Dynamex and therefore subject to California minimum wage and overtime rules; but, at the same time, the same worker might be a legitimate independent contractor under the Economic Realities Test and therefore not subject to federal minimum wage and overtime law. Well that’s confusing.

Right to Control Tests govern the determination of whether someone is an employee under federal tax law, anti-discrimination law, and employee benefits law. As we discussed here, it’s certainly possible to be an employee under one law but an independent contractor under another law.

With the introduction of the strict Dynamex ABC Test, that will happen more often, ensuring full employment for lawyers like me.

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

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California’s Top Court Creates New Test for Independent Contractor vs. Employee, Re-Interprets 102-Year Old Definition

horse race dynamexA three-way horse race can be exciting. As the finish line gets closer, each horse seems to dig deeper and find a little extra something to try to pull ahead. (Or gets whipped. Whatever. Stay with me here.)

It’s been a nail-biter over the past several years, with California, New Jersey, and Massachusetts competing to see which state could create the most difficult test for maintaining independent contractor status in wage and hour cases. For years, courts have used an Economic Realities balancing test for determining Independent Contractor vs. Employee status under federal wage and hour law. Most states apply a variant of that test or apply a Right to Control Test for determining Who Is My Employee? under their wage and hour laws.

In 2004, however, the Plymouth Rockers surged ahead, passing a law that used an ABC Test to determine whether someone is an employee or an independent contractor under Massachusetts’ minimum wage and overtime laws. ABC Tests make it harder to prove that a worker is truly an independent contractor (and not an employee), as we’ll see in more detail below. In 2015, the Home of Bruce Springsteen pushed forward, with the New Jersey Supreme Court requiring businesses to Prove It All Night and adopting an ABC Test for its state wage and hour laws.

Poor California was left behind. (No Surrender?) The state that birthed the Eagles and Hotel California did not rewrite its wage and hour laws and did not adopt an ABC Test. Finding no help from the legislature, the California Supreme Court took it upon itself April 30th to whip the Golden State forward, creating a new ABC Test in its 82-page Dynamex decision.

Let’s be clear about what just happened:

  • There’s no new law.
  • There’s no new regulation.
  • There’s no new executive order.

In fact, the definition of “employ” that this decision is based upon has been the same since Year 4 of the Woodrow Wilson presidency.

But now, despite none of those things changing, there’s a new test — at least for wage and hour claims that are covered under California IWC wage orders.

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 a hybrid Right to Control/Economic Realities Test that has been in place since 1989.

California’s new 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.

The new Dynamex test applies only to claims brought under California wage orders. These claims generally include minimum wage, overtime, and meal and rest break claims. This test does not apply to claims such as failure to reimburse expenses or failure to provide employee benefits.

Good luck out there!

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

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When Sharks Talk to Bears: Beware of Cross-Agency Communications When Defending Independent Contractor Misclassification Claims

Shark independent contractor misclassification information sharing agreements

According to National Geographic, A 20-year old Colorado man has been bitten by a shark, a bear, and a snake.

Either the animal kingdom hates this guy, or he simply tastes delicious.

Formal information sharing across species is probably unusual, but within government agencies, it’s a thing. Businesses need to be aware of cross-agency information sharing when defending audits and defending agency enforcement actions related to independent contractor misclassification.

Federal and state agencies are particularly focused on sharing information about independent contractor misclassification. The Wage and Hour Division of the DOL has signed information sharing agreements with 27 states. The IRS and the DOL have a Memorandum of Understanding. Tax agencies share information too.

This network of cooperation can spell trouble for businesses undergoing 1099 audits or other agency investigations related to potential independent contractor misclassification.

A small assessment by a state agency may not seem like it’s worth fighting, but beware. Information sharing agreements may cause the assessment to multiply. Adverse findings might also be discoverable in litigation if there’s a civil lawsuit.

In other words, you could be viewed as an easy target, having been found already to be in violation.

A finding of independent contractor misclassification by one state agency may feel like a minor snake bite (I don’t know if there is such a thing as a minor snake bite, but stay with me here).  The snake, however, may share information with the shark, who will tell the bear, and before you know it, you’re that guy in Colorado who’s been bitten by all three.

Ouch!

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

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What is a Dependent Contractor?

What is a dependent contractor?

One of the most frustrating aspects of the Employee vs. Independent Contractor conundrum is that that it’s really hard to spell conundrum. Another frustrating thing, though, is that the choice is binary. Under U.S. law, a worker is either an employee or an independent contractor. There’s no third choice.

Not so in Canada.

Our neighbor to the north recognizes the legal status of “dependent contractor.” A dependent contractor is a worker who operates as an independent business in most respects, but who works primarily for just one company.

In the U.S., doing all your work for just one company can sometimes cause the imaginary switch to flip from independent contractor to employee. A dependent contractor, however, sits comfortably in the land of in-between (which I think is somewhere near Newfoundland).

In Canada, there is no at-will employment. Regular employees are entitled to receive notice and severance pay before being shown the door. Independent contractors have no such rights. But dependent contractors do. In Canada, dependent contractors are entitled to notice and severance when terminated.

Could this third category of worker be recognized in the U.S.? Not likely to happen any time soon. In Canada, the main benefit of being a dependent contractor is entitlement to the same notice and severance benefits that Canadian employees are entitled to receive. In the U.S., most employees are at-will and, when they are fired, the only thing they get is out. (Get Out = great movie, by the way.) There’s rarely any legal entitlement to notice or severance pay.

U.S. employment laws are stuck in an earlier era and were not drafted with the modern workplace and gig economy in mind. Other worker status options are needed and should be considered. Maybe a version of “dependent contractor” status would work here, but it would look different than it does in Canada.

For now, the U.S. answer to the question, What is a Dependent Contractor? is that it’s not yet a thing. Hopefully one day it will be.

 

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

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If I Cut My Employee’s Hours, Can I Make Her an Independent Contractor?

Independent contractor part-time worker lizard

This question is best answered with an analogy to everyone’s favorite quadrupedal reptile – the lizard.

The lizard is a squamate reptile. I don’t know what squamate means, but I read it on Wikipedia. Lizards typically have four feet, external ears, and like to climb on the patio screens of retirees’ homes in Florida. Those are the defining characteristics that make them lizards.

Lizards also have tails, but they can shed those tails when in distress. I’m sure this makes the lizard sad, but sacrifices must be made.

The important point here is: Losing a tail doesn’t make a lizard any less of a lizard. (They are taught this by lizard psychotherapists.)

Now let’s get to the point. Today’s post is about what happens when businesses cut their employees’ hours. Workloads sometimes decrease to the point where employees are no longer needed for 40 hours a week. Maybe 10 hours is enough. Or maybe the work needed is sporadic — 5 hours one week, no hours the next week.

Can you convert these part-timers to independent contractors?

No, you can’t. A lizard is still a lizard after losing its tail, and an employee is still an employee after losing some hours. The lizard is not defined by the presence of its tail, and employee status is not determined by the number of hours worked.

It is ok to have an employee whose hours are minimal or occasional. Think of the high schooler who works once a week at the rec center. That’s an employee, not a contractor. The worker is an employee because of the work performed and the control the business has over how the work is done. An independent contractor, in contrast, is someone in business for herself.

What if the employee’s hours are reduced so much that she gets two other occasional jobs? That still doesn’t change the answer. If the work is classified as employment at 40 hours, it’s employment at 3 hours a week. Think of it this way: It’s employment the moment an employee shows up at the worksite. If the employee leaves the worksite after 30 minutes, the work performed for those 30 minutes was still employment.

Employment status doesn’t change based solely on the number of hours worked, and although this next fact is entirely irrelevant to the post, it is worth a quick mention since we have been discussing lizards. The Komodo Dragon is a lizard that has been known to eat mammals as large as a water buffalo (at least according to Wikipedia).

 

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

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Strip Clubs Nailed for $8.5 Million in Settlement of Independent Contractor Misclassification Claims

Independent contractor misclassification settlement $8.5 million spearmint rhinoI learned there’s a chain of strip clubs called the Spearmint Rhino. I didn’t know that was an option for rhinos. The rhinos I’ve seen at the zoo smell nothing like spearmint.

This club was paying its dancers as independent contractors. As we’ve seen in other “exotic dancer” cases, that can be an expensive decision.

This time it cost The Rhino $8.5 million. A class of 8,000 ladies reached a deal after claiming they should have been treated as employees under Caliufornia and federal wage and hour laws. The class members claimed they were denied overtime, denied a minimum wage, denied meal and rest breaks, and had their tips misappropriated.

In other words, they didn’t feel like they had much to dance about.

What happens now to The Rhino? Does it reclassify its dancers as employees? Who knows. Who cares.

I will, however, be asking the zoo if there’s anything they can do about the rhino smell. It seems there may be a minty version of the beast.

 

For more information on independent contractor issues and other labor and employment developments to watch in 2018, join me in Cincinnati on March 28 for the 2018 BakerHostetler Master Class on Labor Relations and Employment Law: A Time for Change. Attendance is complimentary, but advance registration is required. Please email me if you plan to attend, tlebowitz@bakerlaw.com, and list my name in your RSVP so I can be sure to look for you.

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