Say It Like You Mean It! NLRB Says Uber Drivers are Independent Contractors

All You can Eat Seats - Independent contractor misclassification

Section 223 looks delicious!

I was in Phoenix last week and saw this sign at a Diamondbacks Game. The seats in Section 223 were probably plastic and hard to chew but otherwise looked pretty tasty. Still, I don’t think I could eat more than a few at a time.

Ok, I know what the sign intended, but my reading is a fair one too. Right? The message wasn’t quite clear.

The NLRB was much more clear in the message it sent last week in an Advice Memorandum from the Office of the General Counsel. The Board opined that UberX and UberBLACK drivers were independent contractors, not employees of the ride-share app.

The opinion letter applies only to federal labor law (the NLRA), not to wage and hour law, employee benefits law, tax law, or the vast potpourri of state laws, but it’s another sign that the current administration is intent on protecting independent contractor relationships — if the relationships are properly structured.

The memo applied the same Right to Control Test for determining Independent Contractor vs. Employee that the Board used in January in its SuperShuttle decision. In SuperShuttle, the Board ruled that a group of airport van drivers were independent contractors, not employees, under the National Labor Relations Act. The ten-factor Right to Control Test used by the Board is explained here.

This NLRB Advice Memorandum arrives less than three weeks after a similar opinion letter from the Department of Labor (DOL). The DOL’s April 29 letter concluded that service providers who use “virtual marketplace” apps to find customers are independent contractors, not employees. While the letter doesn’t identify the app it reviewed, the DOL’s analysis seems to apply to Uber and other ride-share apps and to the service providers (drivers) who use these apps to find customers. The DOL’s letter addressed only the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which applies a six-factor Economic Realities Test for determining Independent Contractor vs. Employee. Different law, different test. 

Here are four takeaways from the two letters, viewed together:

  1. Different tests apply to different laws, even for similar circumstances. That’s been a consistent theme in this blog, and these two letters — one interpreting the NLRA and the other interpreting the FLSA — reinforce the different approaches. Click here for a chart showing the different tests for Independent Contractor vs. Employee, as of January 2019.
  2. The current administration and its executive agencies are much friendlier toward independent contractor relationships than their Obama-era predecessors. The Obama DOL and NLRB were outright hostile toward independent contractor relationships (see examples here for DOL and here for NLRB), so this is a major change.
  3. These are not court decisions and do not bind the federal courts, even as to NLRA and FLSA cases.
  4. These opinions apply only to the NLRA and the FLSA — two of the many federal laws that apply only to employees, not independent contractors. The opinions do not directly impact federal tax law or employee benefits law, and they do not impact any of the myriad state laws. In other words, the states don’t care.

The area of independent contractor misclassification and the never-ending quest to determine Who Is My Employee? continues to evolve at a pace that should keep readers on the edge of their seats. Just don’t sit too close to the edge, because if you abandon your seat, someone at a D-Backs game might try to eat it.

© 2019 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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Going Mobile? DOL Endorses Independent Contractor Model for Virtual Marketplace Apps

Opinion letter mobile app

Long before mobile apps were a thing, Pete Townsend and The Who were already going mobile. In the 1971 song, Townsend sings about the virtues of life on the open road, living in a mobile home. I’m an air-conditioned gypsy.

In an important opinion letter released this week, the DOL went mobile too, lending support to businesses in the “on-demand” or “sharing” economy. The letter is the first significant ruling that supports independent contractor status for service providers who obtain work through virtual marketplace apps.

A virtual marketplace app is a matchmaking service. It connects consumers who need a service (driving, housekeeping, handyman, anything) with service providers who do the work. Virtual marketplace companies (VMCs) are frequently the target of misclassification claims. In these types of claims, service providers — and the plaintiffs’ lawyers who love them — file lawsuits claiming that the service providers are really employees of the VMC. Frequent targets have been Uber, Lyft, Doordash, and Grubhub.

In Monday’s letter, the DOL opined that service providers are indeed independent contractors of the VMC, not its employees, at least under the facts of this particular case. The letter does not identify the specific VMC at issue, but the facts in the letter are going to be generally applicable to lots of VMCs.

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Should the Economic Realities Test be Changed for the Gig Economy? One Court Thinks So (But How Would That Affect Jon and Ponch?)

CHiPS are off duty police officers contractors or employees?

Go Jon! Go Ponch! Screenshot from IMDb

According to IMDb, the highest rated episode of CHiPs was Christmas Watch. Thieves at the community church ran off with a 15th century bell, which meant — according to IMDb — “The Christmas season doesn’t mean any less work for Jon and Ponch!”

Well ho ho ho then. The Christmas season means lots of extra work for lots of other people, including real life police officers. A recent case in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals addressed whether police officers taking second jobs are independent contractors or employees.

The test for Independent Contractor vs. Employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is well-established. It’s the Economic Realities Test, a multi-factor test that seeks to determine whether, as a matter of economic reality, the worker is reliant on the hiring party to earn a living.

But in Acosta v. Off Duty Police Services, the Court of Appeals questioned whether the usual formula should still apply in the modern gig economy, when lots of people take second jobs.

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Are Independent Contractor Drivers Entitled to a Minimum Wage? NYC Changes the Rules.

New york city rise share drivers minimum wage

Normally, independent contractors are not subject to minimum wage requirements, since those laws (such as the Fair Labor Standards Act) apply only to employees. Lots of litigation focuses on whether contractor drivers should, in fact, be classified as employees and therefore subject to minimum wage and overtime rules, but if the drivers are properly classified as independent contractors, minimum wage requirements typically do not apply.

But under a new rule in New York City, ride share drivers are now entitled to a minimum wage in excess of $15 per hour, despite being independent contractors.

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Happy Birthday, Rudolph! (You’re Still Just a Temp.)

Temporary workers rudolph reindeer employment law

At age 79, Rudolph is the youngest of Santa’s reindeer, having been created in a promotion for the Montgomery Ward department store in 1939. While he reliably shows up every December, Rudolph is still just a seasonal hire, presumably grazing with his caribou cousins somewhere in Lappland or Siberia the rest of the year.

Seasonal hires, or temps, present special problems. There are different kind of temps.

Temps retained as W-2 employees are regular employees, even if only retained for a short period of time.  Regular employment rules apply.

Temps retained through staffing agencies are a little different, but not much. They are likely joint employees of both the worksite employer and the staffing firm.  They likely take direction and supervision from the worksite employer and work side-by-side with the worksite employer’s regular employees.  These characteristics are generally signs of joint employment.

What is the impact of joint employment? Potentially none, but if the staffing agency does not properly pay its employees, the worksite employer may be on the hook. It is critical to ensure that hours are properly recorded and the staffing firm is reputable and reliable in its pay practices.

The use of temps can be a tremendous help during the holiday season, like having a luminous red headlight for a nose when delivering toys via sleigh.  Just be sure to tighten all the reins before taking off.

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

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G-L-O-R-I-A! California Court says to use different tests for different IC misclassification claims

California independent contractor misclassification tests

If someone were to ask whether you like the song, “Gloria,” you’d be right to ask, “Which version?”

There’s the version written by Van Morrison and recorded by his band Them, later covered by Patti Smith, The Doors, and a gaggle of others. That’s the version that goes, “G-L-O-R-I-A, Gloooooria!” (I’m gonna shout it out every day.)

Then there’s the version recorded by Laura Branigan in 1982, originally written in Italian by Umberto Tozzi. (Fun fact!) You know that one — “You’re always on the run now. Running after somebody, you gotta get him somehow.”

Of course the right answer is that you prefer the first version, but my point is that there are multiple versions of “Gloria.” Same name, different song.

This is the same approach California courts seem to be taking with the state’s test for Independent Contractor vs. Employee. Same question, different tests. Many of you will recall the April 2018 Dynamex decision, in which the California Supreme Court adopted a strict ABC Test for determining whether a worker is an employee under California’s Industrial Wage Orders.

But the Dynamex decision did not address whether the new ABC Test would be used to determine whether someone is a contractor or an employee under California’s other state labor laws. Now we know.

The answer, according to a California Court of Appeal decision last week, is that there’s room for both “G-L-O-R-I-A” and “You’re always on the run now.” (You’re welcome, Laura Branigan.)

In last week’s case, called Garcia v. Border Transportation Group, the court considered an eight-count complaint brought by a taxicab driver who had been treated as an independent contractor. The driver claimed he should have been treated as an employee and that various state laws, which apply only to employees, were not followed. The court ruled that different tests apply to different claims.

The Court ruled that the claims brought under California’s Industrial Wage Orders had to be evaluated under the Dynamex ABC Test and, for these claims, the driver had to be considered an employee. The claims subject to the Dynamex test were the claims alleging unpaid wages, failure to pay minimum wage, failure to provide meal and rest periods, failure to furnish itemized wage statements, and the unfair competition (UCL) claims arising out of the wage order violations.

On the other hand, the driver’s claims for wrongful termination in violation of public policy, waiting time penalties, and the UCL claims stemming from these allegations had to be evaluated under the more traditional S.G. Borello balancing test, which includes elements of a Right to Control Test but incorporates other factors too, making it a hybrid test. Under the S.G. Borello standard, the Court ruled that the driver was properly classified as an independent contractor.  (The plaintiff alleged failure to pay overtime too. Typically, overtime claims are governed by the Industrial Wage Orders, but the overtime rules do not apply to taxicab drivers.)

For those who like score cards, here is a list showing (a) the claims that were filed, and (b) which test must be used to determine Independent Contractor vs. Employee under each claim, according to the Garcia case. I have color-coded the claims because it looks pretty:

1. Wrongful termination in violation of public policy. (Lab. Code, §§ 923 [employees may organize], 6310 [retaliation for an OSHA complaint], 6400 [duty to provide a safe work environment], 1102.5 [whistleblower protection].)  S.G. Borello balancing test

2. Unpaid wages under the wage order. (Cal. Code Regs, tit. 8, § 11090.)  Dynamex ABC Test

3. Failure to pay minimum wage. (Lab. Code, §§ 1182.12 [minimum wage], 1194 [right of action], 1194.2 [liquidated damages], 1197 [duty to pay minimum wage].)  Dynamex ABC Test

4. Failure to pay overtime. (Lab. Code, §§ 510 [overtime], 1194 [right of action].) – Not applicable

5. Failure to provide meal and rest breaks. (Lab. Code, §§ 226.7 [rest periods], 512 [meal breaks].) Dynamex ABC Test

6. Failure to furnish accurate wage statements. (Lab. Code, §§ 226 [wage statements], 226.3 [civil penalties], 2699 [PAGA penalties].) Dynamex ABC Test

7. Waiting time penalties. (Lab. Code, §§ 201−202 [wages and leave due upon departure], 203 [penalties].) S.G. Borello balancing test

8. Unfair competition (UCL), based on the foregoing violations. (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17200 et seq.; Lab. Code, § 2699 [PAGA penalties].) Dynamex ABC Test for the alleged violations of the wage order; S.G. Borello balancing test for the other claims

 

That’s the state of the law at this moment, but of course the California Supreme Court could weigh in again later as to whether S.G. Borello should still be used at all.

The explanation given in the Garcia case, though, for why the different tests should be used for different claims makes perfect sense. The definition of employee in Dynamex is broader than in the other statutes, as the California Supreme Court explained in the Dynamex decision.

So there you have it. Different definition of employee, different tests.

Shout it out all night!

Shout it out every day!

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

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New Rule May Clear Up ‘Employee vs Contractor’ Test under FLSA, But Not Quite Yet

DOL joint employment

New regulations may soon be proposed to redefine “employee” under federal wage and hour law. In a recent interview with Bloomberg BNA, Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta hinted that the DOL is working on a new regulation that would more definitively speak to who is an employee and who is an independent contractor.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the federal law governing minimum wage and overtime for employees, does not apply to independent contractors. That’s one of the reasons it matters whether someone is classified as an employee of a contractor. Contractors are not entitled to a minimum wage or overtime under federal law.

The FLSA was passed in the 1930s and does not fit the modern gig economy. Secretary Acosta appears committed to modernizing the regulations, which would bring much needed clarity to the question of who is an employee and who is an independent contractor.

In terms of priorities, the DOL appears likely to address the definition of “joint employment” first.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has initiated formal rulemaking procedures that would result in a new regulation defining joint employment more narrowly under federal labor law.  The DOL has indicated it has plans to follow suit, using rulemaking procedures to seek a new regulation redefining “joint employment” under the FLSA. We can probably expect to see a new proposed FLSA regulation redefining “joint employment” by early 2019.

Based on Secretary Acosta’s comments to Bloomberg BNA, it seems likely that the DOL will turn it’s attention to the Independent Contractor vs Employee conundrum next.

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

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