Subcontractors Can Be Jointly Liable for Contractors’ Labor Law Violations

Otter: “He can’t do that to our pledges.”

Boon: “Only we can do that to our pledges.”

–Animal House, 1978

Subcontractors are like pledges in a way. They have to abide by the rules that apply to the primary contractor. If they fail to do so, they are responsible. Fairness isn’t really the issue.

A recent case shows how subcontractors can be held responsible when a primary contractor improperly fails to bargain with a union. In 2014, a contractor won a bid to take over a Job Corps Youth Training Center. The Center had been a union facility, and the contract was set to expire right around the same time the contractor took over operations. The contractor brought in a subcontractor, MJLM, to handle wellness, recreation,

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Can Independent Contractors Form Unions? Seattle Wants to Allow It.

space-needle-independent contrcator drivers seattle uber lyft seattle law ordinanceA legal battle in Seattle (“The Battle of Seattle!”) may soon determine whether independent contractor drivers can form unions. In 2015, the city passed a law allowing Uber and Lyft drivers to organize. The mayor allowed the law to go into effect but didn’t sign it because he was concerned it would spawn expensive litigation. He was right.

This month, a federal judge handed the City a victory, dismissing a lawsuit by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce which had argued that the ordinance was illegal. The decision is certainly not the last word on the subject, since the Chamber will appeal and there is a companion lawsuit still pending anyway.

The issues go beyond the basic question of whether independent contractors can form unions.

Generally, they cannot. Independent contractors are separate businesses. Antitrust law Continue reading

Appeals Court Slams NLRB Joint Employer Finding in Landmark CNN Case, But Ruling May Prove Hollow

NLRB CNN joint employment Browning-Ferris overrule Second Circuit Court of Appeals IMG_1094A federal Court of Appeals has ruled that the NLRB cannot abruptly change its definition of joint employment without sufficient explanation. This decision (the CNN case) rebukes the NLRB for its initial attempt, in 2014, to expand the definition of joint employment.

This decision does not, however, address the Browning-Ferris case that followed in 2015, in which the Board similarly expanded the definition of joint employment but, that time, with an expansive explanation and justification for doing so. Browning-Ferris in on appeal too.

Here’s what happened.

Back in the good old days, when TV was pure and the world had not yet been exposed to Janet Jackson’s halftime nipple, CNN used to contract with an outside company who Continue reading

Joint Employment Legislation Needs to Be Expansive — If It’s to Be Effective

IMG_1093On Monday, we wrote about the Save Local Business Act — proposed legislation that, if passed, would create a new definition for joint employment under the NLRA and FLSA. But would that law go far enough?

No. Not at all.

On the bright side for businesses, the law would provide some predictability in that staffing agency workers would most likely be excluded from bargaining units. It would also remedy the current unfairness that results when a staffing agency makes payroll and overtime miscalculations but the company using the workers is held responsible as a joint employer.

But much more needs to be done to provide real clarity and predictability for business owners.

First, the law fails to address who is a joint employer under other federal employment Continue reading

Congress May Rewrite “Joint Employment” Definition

IMG_1092Congress may finally provide some clarity in determining who is a joint employer. In legislation introduced last week, the House proposed a bill that would rewrite the definition of “joint employer” under federal labor law (National Labor Relations Act) and federal wage and hour law (Fair Labor Standards Act).

The Save Local Business Act — despite lacking a fun-to-say acronym — would create a new standard for determining who is a joint employer under these two laws. The proposed new standard would allow a finding of joint employment “only if such person [business] directly, actually, and immediately, and not in a routine and limited manner, exercises significant control over the essential terms and conditions of employment….”

The definition provides examples of what are “essential terms and conditions,” including: Continue reading

NLRB Nominees Hate Puppies & Rainbows, Dems Claim

dog nlrb independent contractor -1674115_1920

Image credit:   Well Pet Coach

Ok, not really, but it seemed that way.

Last week, NLRB nominees William Emanuel and Marvin Kaplan were alternatively tossed softballs and stink bombs in “questions” from Senators on the Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee (known in Congressional circles as the HELP Me Rhonda, HELP HELP Me Rhonda Committee).

I use the word “questions” in quotes because, as both Americans who have ever watched C-SPAN would know, these events are typically staged to allow Senators who have already made up their minds to hear themselves talk, rather than ask questions. Here’s an example:

Question by Sen. Elizabeth Warren:  “Your entire career has been to discourage union Continue reading

Two Key Developments in Joint Employment are Expected This Week

IMG_1091.JPG

This could be a busy week for developments in the joint employment area.

1) Congressional Republicans have begun drafting legislation that could change the definition of joint employment, Bloomberg BNA reports. Presumably the goals of a new bill would be (a) to add clarity to the standards for deciding who is a joint employer, and (b) to make it more difficult for workers or unions to claim they are jointly employed.

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New NLRB Nominations May Lead to New Joint Employment Test (or to my misuse of Lynyrd Skynyrd song lyrics)

IMG_1088In the Lynyrd Skynyrd song, “Gimme Three Steps,” we find our hero cutting a rug down at a place called The Jug with a girl named Linda Lou. This catchy song has nothing to do with labor law but does deal with someone who finds himself in a bad situation (shakin’ like a leaf on a tree!) and needs three steps to get out the back door.

Same thing here (in a sense). [C’mon, work with me here, I’m trying to make NLRB appointments interesting!]. When not posting tweets of himself pummeling a photoshopped CNN logo outside a WWE ring, President Trump found the time to make two important nominations to fill vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), giving companies two of the three steps needed to undo a long list of anti-business decisions from the past eight years.

The two new appointmnents, once confirmed, will shift the Board back to a 3-2 Republican majority, which should spell relief for businesses in several areas — including joint employment. (Two appointments = two steps. There’s a third step coming.  Wait for it….)

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Today’s Tip: Avoid Blurring Lines Between Independent Contractors and Employees

side-by-side

This mistake may seem obvious, but companies do it all the time.  When an independent contractor is performing the same work as employees, the contractor is likely to be deemed an employee.

Remember, the determination of whether someone is an independent contractor or an employee is made based on the facts of the relationship, not what the parties call it. If the facts are that a contractor is doing the same work, in the same location, with the same instructions, and under the same supervision as an employee, then the contractor is likely an employee and should be paid as an employee.

I am not suggesting there is any problem using staffing agency workers or temp-to-hire.  Those workers are being paid by the staffing agency as employees. That is, their paychecks show withholdings and deductions, and their pay is reported by the staffing agency on a W-2, not a 1099. These are employees of the staffing agency (and very possibly your joint employees, but that’s a separate issue).

The issue addressed in this post is the use of 1099 independent contractors to perform the same type of work as employees.  If the work performed by an employee is employment, then it is very hard to maintain the position that the same work being performed by a contractor is not employment.

Summary: Avoid assigning contractors to perform the same work as employees.  When individual contractors and employees work side-by-side doing the same thing, the likelihood of misclassification is high.

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

D.C. Court Doesn’t Fall for NLRB’s Lollipop Trick, Deems FedEx Drivers Independent Contractors

img_1042Act I, Scene 1

Location: Anywhere, USA

Boy: Can I have a red lollipop?

Mom: No, we’re eating dinner in half an hour.

Boy: (eats blue lollipop)

Mom: What are you doing? I said no!

Boy: I only asked about the red lollipop.

Too cute by half, right? Mom is no fool and easily sees through the simple trick. The boy is grounded.

Act I, Scene 2

Location:  D.C. Court of Appeals

NLRB: These FedEx drivers in Massachusetts are employees, not independent contractors.

D.C. Circuit (2009): No, they’re independent contractors.

NLRB: Ok, Connecticut then. The FedEx drivers in Connecticut are employees, not independent contractors.

D.C. Circuit (2017): Are you kidding me? We already ruled they are independent contractors.

NLRB: Last time I only asked about the drivers in Massachusetts.

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