Can You Require Independent Contractor Drivers to Sign Arbitration Agreements?

Arbitration agreementstranspiortation industry drivers new prime v oliviera coin tossHow do you want your disputes decided? State court? Federal court? Arbitrator? Coin toss?

Ok, probably not coin toss, but that method is still used to break ties in local elections. (Spoiler alert: It was heads.)

Lots of businesses using independent contractors rely on arbitration agreements (with class action waivers) as a way to protect against a claim of independent contractor misclassification. Arbitration agreements with class action waivers prevent large groups of contractors from joining together in court to file class action lawsuits.

Instead, they have to bring any claims on their own. That means much less money is at stake in any individual case, and much of the incentive for hungry plaintiffs’ lawyers to file these claims is gone. (So sad.)

When bound by an arbitration clause, some plaintiffs have pointed out that there is an exception under federal arbitration law that applies to transportation workers. The Federal Arbitration Act, which is the federal law favoring arbitration, doesn’t apply to employees in the transportation industry.

Most courts have said this exception applies only to employees, not to independent contractors. In other words, employees in the transportation industry might not have to arbitrate their claims, but independent contractors do.

A recent court of appeals decision, though, may have changed that. The First Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the FAA transportation worker exception applies to employees and independent contractors. If true, the implications for the gig economy could be massive. Independent contractor drivers are all over the transportation industry. (Some might not be in interstate commerce, but that’s a technical argument for court, not for a blog.) Uber, Lyft, FedEx. They have all switched to using mandatory arbitration agreement with their independent contractor drivers.

The Supreme Court has agreed to decide this important issue in a case called New Prime Inc. v. Oliviera.

The Court just accepted the case last week, so we won’t have a ruling until next spring or summer, but this is an important case to watch for any business using independent contractors in the transportation industry. Will your arbitration agreements survive?

The issue accepted by the Supreme Court for review is:Whether the FAA’s Section 1 exemption, which applies on its face only to ‘contracts of employment,’ is inapplicable to independent contractor agreements.”

Note for Supreme Court Watchers: This is a separate issue from the Epic Systems case already heard by the Supreme Court, which should be decided by this June. In Epic Systems, the issue is whether the National Labor Relations Act prohibits businesses from requiring their employees to sign mandatory arbitration with class action waivers. The issues are somewhat related, but distinct. Epic Systems deals with employees’ arbitration agreements; New Prime deals with independent contractors and is limited to the transportation industry.

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,, and list my name in your RSVP so I can be sure to look for you.

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

NLRB Smells Something Rotten, Seeks Input on Major Misclassification Decision


Screenshot from

A flight from Dubai to Amsterdam made an emergency landing last week after a fight broke out over a passenger’s excessive flatulence. The two Dutchmen sitting next to the flatulator asked him to cut it out, but he wouldn’t (or couldn’t) stop spreading his perfumery around the cabin. A fist fight broke out and the pilot diverted the flying stinkship to Vienna, where several passengers were removed. Read more here.

Something smells rotten to the NLRB as well, four months after an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) ruled that independent contractor misclassification, by itself, can be an unfair Continue reading

Gig Economy Workers Aren’t Saving for Retirement. That Might Cause You to Get Sued.

Gig economy savingsThe Drifters wanted listeners to save the last dance for them. Grand Funk Railroad wanted to save the land (album: E Pluribus Funk!!!). The Sex Pistols wanted to save the queen. Or they wanted God to do it for them. Lazy Sex Pistols.

But what about saving money? Not enough action there. A recent report from the Economic Policy Institute found that the median (50th percentile) working-age family had just $5,000 in retirement savings. (Warning: It’s boring Boring BORING, but click here if you dare.)

Workers classified as employees can Continue reading

Python vs. Boa: Does the GrubHub Misclassification Ruling Really Matter? (Don’t Believe the Hype!)

Python vs boa - independentr contractor misclassification and grubhubPythons and boa constrictors usually do not fight each other. At least that’s what I learned in herpetology school. The reason they don’t fight each other is that there’s too much risk. The boa risks getting bitten by the python’s lethal fangs. The python risks being constricted to death because that’s how constrictors work.

For roughly the same reason, independent contractor vs. employee disputes rarely go to trial. There’s too much to lose. A company that relies on independent contractors for its business model cannot afford a ruling that all of its contractors are really employees. That’s why these cases almost always settle.

The GrubHub case, however, Continue reading

Like a Drunken Possum, NEW GIG Act Fails Again.

NEW GIG act possum

Screenshot from, 12/3/2017

I feel bad for this little guy. This possum apparently broke into a Florida liquor store, knocked over a bottle of bourbon, and got sauced. Wildlife rescue picked him up and checked him into rehab (no, not that kind). Full coverage here at

I applaud the critter’s effort, though.

He probably feels a little like Senator John Thune (R-SD), who has repeatedly introduced a bill called the NEW GIG Act — designed to simplify tax law for independent contractor misclassification scufflaws. Every time he gets close, though, someone knocks him over the head with a bottle. Or something like that.

The NEW GIG Act has been introduced in Congress several times. If passed, it would Continue reading

Bad News for Businesses: California May Rewrite Test for Independent Contractor vs. Employee

Shark california independent contractor misclassification

California businesses already have to cope with the threat of earthquakes, wildfires, Sharknados, and the craziest employment laws in all the land. The California Supreme Court may be about to make things even harder for businesses that use independent contractors.

For years, disputes over whether someone is an independent contractor or employee under California wage and hour law have been analyzed under the test used in S.G. Borello & Sons, which is a hybrid test combining elements of the Right to Control Test with elements of the Economic Realities Test. It is a multi-factor balancing test.

That may be about to change.

Continue reading

Will Changes to the Tax Code Reduce Claims of Independent Contractor Misclassification?

Unicorn independent contractor misclassification

Ha ha. Wishful thinking.

By now, we’ve all heard that the new tax code provides a 20% tax deduction for many small businesses, including potentially independent contractors. (More info here.) As a result, some workers might prefer to be called contractors instead of employees to take advantage of the new deduction. Contractor status may be particularly appealing to workers who don’t need health insurance or other employee benefits. But, as we covered here, it doesn’t matter what a worker wants. The facts of the relationship determine a worker’s classification, no matter what the parties want it to be.

Don’t expect this change in the tax law to mean that independent contractor misclassification claims are going away. They’re not. Continue reading