Ultimate Survival Alaska: The Most Detailed Test for Independent Contractor Misclassification Yet! (And Bears!) (Maybe)

Alaska independent contractor definition workers compensationReality TV seems to fit Alaska like antlers on a caribou, but apparently much of what we see on TV is fake, according to this article by Tom Kizzio in the L.A. Times. Kizzio derisively charges that state subsidies have caused the proliferation of shows about bush people, lack of indoor plumbing, and living off the land, despite some being filmed near suburbs with multiple Safeways.

I say “derisively” because Kizzio wrote a book called Pilgrim’s Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier, which chronicles a pioneering family in the (real) bush who turns out to have a past worthy of reality TV. That is, Kizzio planted his flag in the same mud flat. Maybe Kizzio’s just jealous that his book didn’t get a show.

Reality TV in Alaska may be full of fakes, but one thing Alaskans apparently take seriously (other than their annual oil subsidies) is precision in defining what it means to be an independent contractor.

We’ve written about all sorts of balancing tests, like Right to Control Tests and Economic Realities Tests, and we’ve written about stricter ABC Tests and the proliferation of state law variations, some of which apply only to certain types of state laws like workers compensation or unemployment.

The Alaska legislature has passed a new law that contains one of the most specific tests yet, an ABCDEFGH test that includes subparts under G and H and which applies only to the definition of “independent contractor” for workers compensation purposes.

I know most of my readers will not be grappling with the complexities of this Alaskan workers comp statute in their day-to-day business dealings, but this new law is a good illustration of how every state seems to want to define “independent contractor” its own way. The multitude of definitions means a labyrinth of red tape and confusion for any business that operates in multiple jurisdictions. In some places, your independent contractor may be properly classified; in other places, not so much.

The abundance of tests for Independent Contractor vs. Employee was already mind-numbing, but this new test is perhaps the most detailed and specific yet. Many of these factors appear in other tests as factors to be considered and weighed, but this test is different in that — like an ABC Test — each item must be present for someone to be a contractor.

Here’s Alaska’s new test, which applies only to workers compensation law:

A person is an independent contractor for the purposes of this section only if the person: 

(A) has an express contract to perform the services; and

(B) is free from direction and control over the means and manner of providing services, subject only to the right of the individual for whom, or entity for which, the services are provided to specify the desired results, completion schedule, or range of work hours, or to monitor the work for compliance with contract plans and specifications, or federal, state, or municipal law; and

(C) incurs most of the expenses for tools, labor, and other operational costs necessary to perform the services, except that materials and equipment may be supplied; and

(D) has an opportunity for profit and loss as a result of the services performed for the other individual or entity; and

(E) is free to hire and fire employees to help perform the services for the contracted work; and

(F) has all business, trade, or professional licenses required by federal, state, or municipal authorities for a business or individual engaging in the same type of services as the person; and

(G) follows federal Internal Revenue Service requirements by

(i) obtaining an employer identification number, if required;
(ii) filing business or self-employment tax returns for the previous tax year to report profit or income earned for the same type of services provided under the contract; or
(iii) intending to file business or self-employment tax returns for the current tax year to report profit or income earned for the same type of services provided under the contract if the person’s business was not operating in the previous tax year; and

(H) meets at least two of the following criteria:

(i) the person is responsible for the satisfactory completion of services that the person has contracted to perform and is subject to liability for a failure to complete the contracted work, or maintains liability insurance or other insurance policies necessary to protect the employees, financial interests, and customers of the person’s business;
(ii) the person maintains a business location or a business mailing address separate from the location of the individual for whom, or the entity for which, the services are performed;
(iii) the person provides contracted services for two or more different customers within a 12-month period or engages in any kind of business advertising, solicitation, or other marketing efforts reasonably calculated to obtain new contracts to provide similar services.

Whew! That’s information overload. I doubt most of you read all the way through. You skimmed, right? Sort of fake-read your way through it? That’s ok. (I did too.) Thanks for jumping to the bottom and joining me again.

I’ve gotta leave you now, though. I checked the guide on my TV, and I don’t want to miss reruns of Bristol Palin’s reality show about “her amazing journey through life” (actual description from imdb), or, to translate the hyperbole of Alaskan reality tv into a simpler more truthful description, her state-subsidized show about being a single mom.

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

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“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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Can Independent Contractors Sue for Employment Discrimination?

diaper independent contractor discrimination

The answer brings to mind the one must-have item for the thousands of crazies who spend 12 hours in Times Square waiting for the ball to drop every New Years’ Eve with no available public restrooms:

Depends.

Under federal anti-discrimination law, an individual generally needs to be an employee to bring an employment discrimination claim. Laws like the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act require employment status to file a lawsuit. Race discrimination claims, on the other hand, can potentially be brought under a different statute.

State laws, however, vary. Some states permit independent contractors to bring “employment discrimination” lawsuits; other states do not.

A recent decision by the Washington Supreme Court serves as a reminder that in the Great Northwest (home of Mount St. Helens and Blaine Peace Arch Park [which I visited  last month and got to run around and around the obselisk that marked the international border]), an independent contractor can bring a state law claim for discrimination “for the making or performance of a contract for personal services.”

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act also prohibits discrimination against independent contractors.

On the flip side, state anti-discrimination laws in Ohio and Florida protect only employees, not independent contractors.

To determine whether independent contractors are protected under anti-discrimination laws, the answer truly is: It depends.  It depends on the type of alleged discrimination and depends on the state whether the alleged discrimination occurred.

None of this is to say that companies in states like Ohio or Florida should discriminate against contractors. In fact, where facts of any individual case are particularly egregious, common law claims might be recognized by courts uncomfortable with the idea that there is no remedy, even if the state’s anti-discrimination statute does not permit the claim. Although I live on the defense side, I still say: Do the right thing.

And if you should ever find yourself in Times Square on New Years’ Eve, passing the hours until the ball drops, I say this: Bring your adult undergarments. There’s no place to pee.

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

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Court Expands Use of ABC Test in California, Commits Candy Land Party Foul

Dynamex ABC Test Candy Land

Suppose you are dominating an important game of Candy Land, having picked the orange card first, which gave you the privilege of taking Rainbow Trail across half the board to a distant purple square, leaving your toddler opponent in tears, whining, “No Fair!” Well, your toddler would be wrong since that was perfectly fair and within the rules. But you feel bad for young Timmy and so you allow him to change the rules mid-game so that no one can use Rainbow Trail, forcing you to plod slowly across all the regular squares, bored to tears because this stinking game takes forever.

Sometimes we make exceptions for bratty toddlers, but in real life it’s no fair to change the rules in the middle of the game. You may have built your entire Candy Land strategy around trying to pick the Orange square card first. It’s not fair to block you from Rainbow Trail after the game has started.

The same is true in business. Businesses hire employees or retain independent contractors according to the rules in place when they make those decisions.

An important ruling last week threatens to change the Independent Contractor vs. Employee rules midway through the game — but this is no game.

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We’re Blogging about Logging! (I know, lame headline, but true)

Logger Ohio workers compensation independent contractor

The lyrics, “Come fly with me, come fly, come fly away” are instantly associated with Frank Sinatra (although, troublingly, the Michael Buble version appeared higher in my google search for a link to the lyrics). It is a little known fact* that the original version of the song was an ode to woodsmen and forestry workers and went something like this: “Come log with me, come log, come log away.”

In the original* lyric, Ol’ Blue Eyes invites a fellow logger to chop wood with him — not for him. That same distinction (with, not for) made all the difference in a recent court decision denying workers compensation benefits to a logger.

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