“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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Will New Bill Finally Allow Independent Contractors to Receive “Employee” Benefits?

Employee benefits for independent contractors

In 1983, Journey released the album Frontiers which, as you all know, is not as good as Escape but way better than Raised on Radio. The third song on Frontiers is After the Fall (youtube 80s refresher here), not to be confused with the later-formed Australian rock band, After the Fall (which is not to be confused with the much earlier British post-punk band The Fall, which came before After the Fall, but I digress). The Australian band, After the Fall, featured a drummer named Mark Warner, not to be confused with the Democratic Senator from Virginia, who, incidentally, is not related to John Warner, who was also once a Senator from Virginia.

Mark Warner the Senator recently introduced a bill that relates to the subject of this blog, and so for that, I am grateful, especially since it allowed me to mention the album Escape, which I really liked very much.

Sen. Warner has been trying for some time to gain traction on a bill that would promote portable employee benefits for gig workers. I am solidly behind this idea, as it would provide much more flexibility for independent contractors to carve out their own career paths without forfeiting employee benefits. I never understood why we tie health insurance to employment in this country, but that’s for another day.

Warner’s bill has never gone anywhere but, to his credit, he is trying again.

Last week, he introduced an amendment to a massive appropriations package. The amendment would set up a system to award grants for state and local governments and non-profits. The grants would support the creation of programs to allow portable benefits for gig workers, including health insurance, workers compensation, disability coverage, and retirement savings plans.

I hope the program succeeds. The current legal framework, which recognizes independent contractors and employees but no third option, is not consistent with how the modern gig economy works. If benefits can be de-coupled from employment, as they should be, we may eventually see a 21st century system that allows gig workers to receive insurance, workers comp, and other protections, without having to be reclassified as employees.

Thank you, Sen. Warner. I won’t stop believin.

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

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When Is a Referral Service an Employer?

Hamburger

Retired prison guard Don Gorske claims to have eaten two McDonald’s Big Macs every day for the past 46 years. That’s 30,000 Big Macs.  If you are looking to hire a retired prison guard whose arteries laugh at the common man’s battle with cholesterol, Don is your man.

Referral services are business that serve as matchmakers. They could find you someone like Don if that’s what your company needs.

But when are referral services considered employers (or joint employers) of the workers they place? That is the question explored in a recent Bulletin posted by the Wage & Hour Division of the DOL.

The Bulletin looks specifically at home health care registries, but the analysis and factors should be applicable when trying to answer this question for any business whose primary service is matchmaking for workers.

Unlike home health care agencies, registries don’t provide actual home healthcare services. they just find qualified providers and match them with individuals in need, who then presumably become the caregivers’ employers.

Under federal wage and hour law (the Fair Labor Standards Act), an Economic Realities Test is used to determine whether an employer-employee relationship exists.

In the context of health care referral services, here are the factors that the WHD says are most relevant:

  1. Background Checks & References. Objective data collection does not suggest employment, but interviews that result in subjective judgments and recommendations may suggest an employment relationship.
  2. Hire and Fire. Hiring and firing are suggestive of employment. A referral service should be introducing candidates, not making hiring decisions.
  3. Scheduling and Assigning Work. Also indicative of employment. A referral service should not be involved in this.
  4. Controlling Caregiver’s Work. Control suggests employment. A matchmaker should not be involved in the actual work being performed.
  5. Setting Pay Rate. This is up to the employer (the individual) and the employee. A referral agency should not be setting pay rates.
  6. Receiving Continuous Payment for Services (Instead of Fee-Based). When the a registry receives a referral fee, that does not suggest an employment relationship. But if the agency’s pay varies by the number of hours worked by the caregiver, an argument can be made that the worker’s pay is affected by the hours worked and the cut given to the agency, which may weigh in favor of an employment relationship. This seems like a minor factor though.
  7. Paying Wages. If the registry pays the caregiver’s wages, that weighs in favor of an employment relationship.
  8. Tracking Hours. The employer, not the agency, should be responsible for tracking hours in compliance with worker pay and recordkeeping requirements.
  9. Purchasing Equipment and Supplies. The caregiver or the recipient should be doing this, not the agency.

As long as we’re talking health care, I’m going to limit my Big Mac intake to under two a day. Not that I’m judging, Don.

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

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NYC to Cap Number of Uber, Lyft Drivers

Traffic uber lyft NYC law suspect TLC license

In the Jimi Hendrix song, Crosstown Traffic, Jimi plays a nifty little riff with a makeshift kazoo constructed from a comb and tissue paper. The lyrics compare trying to get through to his lady friend with trying to get through Manhattan’s cross-town traffic, which was already bad in 1967. (Thanks Wikipedia!)

News Alert: New York City Has Bad Traffic!

So whose fault is that?

In a gut punch to the gig economy, New York City just passed an ordinance that will place a one-year ban on granting new licenses for ride hailing vehicles.

To drive using Uber or Lyft in NYC, you need a license from the Taxi and Limousine Commission (a different kind of TLC). During this one-year suspension period, the city will conduct a study on traffic and congestion and will examine driver compensation.

According to this Wall Street Journal article and nifty graph, since the emergence of Uber and Lyft as ride-share options, the value of NYC taxi medallions has plummetted from about $1 million to roughly $200,000; and since 2015, the number of TLC-licensed drivers (cabs and ride-sharing services) has more than doubled. The City points to increased congestion as the reason to suspend the issuance of new TLC licenses for a year.

The ride-share companies argue that the cap will limit the number of available drivers in outer boroughs, increasing New Yorkers’ wait times.

Is the City’s motivation really to address traffic congestion? Or is the idea instead intended to help the struggling taxi industry? Hmmmm.

Under the new law, licenses that have already been granted are not being taken away.

In case you were interested (or even if you are not), here are the general requirements for obtaining a license from TLC if you want to drive. [Uber, Lyft]

But for the next 12 months, the application process will be “just like crosstown traffic,
So hard to get through to you.”

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

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How Best to Describe the Effect of Dynamex? Led Zeppelin Songs

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A lot has been written about the Dynamex case, but not enough has been written about it using references to Led Zeppelin songs. I am here to fill the void. Here is a musically-themed update. We’re Going to California. You’re welcome.

Dazed and Confused. Last week, a gaggle of California businesses and trade associations sent a letter to Gov. Brown and the Cal. Legislature, asking for relief from the Dynamex decision and its court-created ABC Test for independent contractor misclassification claims. The letter correctly says, “With one judicial opinion, nearly 30 years of established law has been overturned virtually overnight.”

Communication Breakdown. The letter argues that any change in the standard for determining Who Is My Employee? should be made by the legislature, not the courts. The Industrial Wage Commission, which wrote the wage orders at issue in the Dynamex case, was defunded 15 years ago, before mobile apps existed and before the gig economy took off. So why is a new rule applicable to the new economy coming from a court, instead of the legislature? Continue reading

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?

Continue reading