California Businesses May Need Emotional Support Clown When New Independent Contractor Law Takes Effect

Emotional support clown independent contractor misclassification

An Auckland, New Zealand man sensed he was about to fired from his job in the ad industry. His employer scheduled a meeting and said he could bring someone with him for emotional support.

He brought a clown.

As the employer provided the man with his separation papers, the clown made balloon animals — a poodle and a unicorn — to try to lighten the mood. The clown also mimed crying as the employer explained the termination.

Afterward, the man described the performance of his emotional support clown as “overall supportive” but “sort of noisy.”

California businesses may want to hire their own emotional support clowns as they try to decide how to respond to Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5), which has passed both houses and now awaits Governor Newsom’s signature to become law.

AB 5 makes it harder to classify workers in California as independent contractors.  Once it takes effect, it will instantly convert many thousands of independent contractors into employees.

Here’s how. AB 5 codifies the ABC Test invented by the California Supreme Court in the Dynamex case and then extends it.  In April 2018, the California Supreme Court ruled that a strict ABC Test would be used for determining whether someone is an independent contractor or an employee under California’s Industrial Wage Orders, which cover minimum wage, overtime, meal and rest breaks, and a few other wage-related subjects.

Under AB 5, the Dynamex ABC Test will also be used to determine whether someone is an employee under all portions of the California Labor Code and the Unemployment Insurance Code.  That means independent contractors in California will be presumed to be employees of the entity for which they perform services under these laws, unless the business can prove all three of the ABC Test factors below:

A) The person is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of the work and in fact;

B) The person performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business; and

C) The person is customarily engaged in in independently established trade, occupation or business of the same nature as that involved in the work performed.

As discussed here, Part B of the test is the hardest to meet.

Unless all three factors of the test are satisfied, the workers will be considered employees under California law, and all of the following state law requirements will apply:

  • Minimum wage
  • Overtime, if not exempt, including daily overtime
  • Meal and rest breaks
  • Reimbursement of expenses
  • Paid sick leave
  • Paid family leave
  • Various notice, poster, and wage statement requirements
  • Timekeeping record requirements
  • Unemployment coverage
  • Workers compensation coverage
  • Paycheck timing requirements
  • On-call, call-back, and standby pay requirements
  • Travel time payment requirements
  • Final paycheck requirements
  • Commission rules

This is not intended to be a complete list of all California laws that apply to employees, but these are some of the most likely areas where businesses would find themselves to be in a state of noncompliance if their independent contractors are deemed to be employees under AB 5.

There are a number of exemptions to the bill, but they are narrowly crafted.  Barbers and estheticians, for example, are not affected.

If signed, the law will take effect January 1, 2020, although some provisions may be applied retroactively.

This bad news leads to the obvious question you astute readers will ask: So what are my options if I use independent contractors in California?

I am putting the finishing touches on The Playbook: Now That California Has Passed AB 5, What Are the Options for Businesses Using Independent Contractors?

The Playbook will be available at no cost and will be released as a BakerHostetler Client Alert. I will post a link here, once it is available.

In the meantime, let me know if you’d like more information about how AB 5 might affect your business. If you can’t reach me, I’m probably on the phone, trying to hire my own emotional support clown.

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

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Sperm Oil Legal Alert: Can You Sue under the Tax Code for Independent Contractor Misclassification?

Sue tax code independent contractor misclassification

When laws are well-written, they’re really specific so everybody knows what you can and cannot do. For example, Title 21, Section 173.275(c) makes it a federal crime to use more hydrogenated sperm oil in food than necessary to accomplish the intended lubricating effect of the sperm oil. (Thanks @CrimeADay!)

Some laws, on the other hand, leave room for interpretation. That’s when lawyers can get creative.

A drapery hanger in Maryland filed a lawsuit alleging that he was misclassified as an independent contractor and should have been paid overtime like an employee. He sued under the usual federal and state laws, but he added a bit of creativity.

The Internal Revenue Code includes a section allowing someone to sue if an evildoer “files a fraudulent information return with respect to payments purported to be made to any other person.” That’s 26 USC 7434, for those keeping score at home. And USC refers to the United States Code, not OJ Simpson’s alma mater.

The drapery hanger included this claim in his lawsuit, alleging that the sole proprietorship that allegedly owed him overtime pay also violated this law by filing 1099s instead of W-2s.

Points will be awarded here for creativity, but those points cannot be used in court. Federal courts don’t take points. (This was not addressed in law school.) All points awarded may be applied to future discounts at your local gas station. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited.

The court said, nice try but no. This section of the Code refers to the filing of fraudulent amounts of pay, not filing the wrong form.

Had the decision gone the other way, a claim under this section of the Code could be tacked onto just about every independent contractor misclassification lawsuit. And we don’t need that hassle. There are already enough laws that cover misclassification. And sperm oil.

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

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Why Don’t Companies Offer Healthcare Benefits to Independent Contractors?

 

I found this on buzzfeed, while doing academic research for this blog post.

In the business world, it’s not quite as funny when good intentions are misunderstood. Which is why companies generally can’t offer healthcare benefits to independent contractors. Even if they would like to, they can’t.

Good intentions would be misunderstood, and the effect of offering healthcare coverage to independent contractors would likely be that they are turned into employees.

Why?

The law limits who can sell health insurance coverage. You need a license. It’s the same reason I can’t work as an Aquatic Antifouling Paint Operator in New York State. If you want to commercially apply antifouling paints, which are pesticides, on vessel hulls, boat bottoms, or other other marine surfaces to inhibit the growth of aquatic organisms, you need an Aquatic Antifouling Paint Operator license. (Apply here.)

Companies that aren’t licensed to sell healthcare insurance can’t go around selling healthcare insurance. But there’s a narrow exception, which allows companies to offer healthcare insurance to its employees. The exception doesn’t extend to vendors, suppliers, or independent contractors. Only employees.

Some of the large rideshare app companies have advocated for legal reform that would allow them to offer more benefits to independent contractor drivers. But there’s not much they can do right now. Companies without a license to sell healthcare insurance can only offer healthcare insurance to its employees, not to independent contractors.

Some companies have begun to get creative in an effort to offer more benefits to independent contractor drivers. According to benefitsnews.com, some app companies are beginning to offer limited benefits, such as access to accident insurance, free online college courses, and professional certifications.

Some states, such as New York, have considered legislation that would expand the availability of benefits to independent contractors, but the current state of the law severely restricts what companies can do.

The legal problem for companies who want to offer more benefits to contractors is not just that they can’t sell healthcare insurance to non-employees. It’s also that the more benefits they offer to contractors, the more those contractors may start to resemble employees. Since U.S. law currently sees the Employee vs. Independent Contractor issue as binary — you can only be one or the other — companies who offer increased employee-like benefits to contractors run the risk that the contractors will be deemed their employees, which creates a whole big mess of other legal problems.

A company might wish to provide healthcare coverage to independent contractors, but the company’s good intentions would be misunderstood. Which is also why if you want a haircut and dye, you should just type it into your phone’s calendar instead of just telling Siri.

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

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Can Your Business Be Liable for Sexual Harassment by an Independent Contractor?

Independent contractors sexual harassment

Damage can come from unexpected places.

Earlier this year, Brock Holt of the Boston Red Sox landed on baseball’s Injured List after his two-year old son poked him in the eye. Baseball players accept the risk of injury, but that’s not a way you’d expect to get hurt.

I think you see where I’m going here. Don’t let an independent contractor become Brock Holt’s son. Yes, a business can be liable for harassment by a contractor — if it fails to respond appropriately to a complaint. If one of your employees complains of harassment by a contractor, pay attention.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), businesses can be liable for harassment by non-employees if the business knows about the harassment and fails to take reasonable steps to prevent it. EEOC Guidance says:

The employer will be liable for harassment by non-supervisory employees or non-employees over whom it has control (e.g., independent contractors or customers on the premises), if it knew, or should have known about the harassment and failed to take prompt and appropriate corrective action.

That means you can’t just say, “It’s not our employee so we can’t do anything about it.” Investigate. Interview witnesses. Take statements. If there’s something there, act upon it.

If the bad actor is a contractor, options may include:

  1. Terminating the independent contractor relationship, 
  2. Limiting the contractor’s access to your facility,
  3. Poking out the contractor’s eye (or both eyes, if the harassment is particularly egregious), or 
  4. Any other steps to prevent bad behavior. 

My wife, who is in HR, says #3 is not an appropriate response, so I stand corrected. Don’t do #3. The other options are still good though.

As for #4, you should not discipline an independent contractor, but you can issue a stern warning to that contractor that the relationship will be terminated if there are any further complaints. Just don’t call it “discipline.” Disciplinary action is a sign of control, which can be used as evidence that the contractor might really be an employee. The last thing you need if one of your employees is being harassed by a contractor is to convert that contractor into your employee. 

Whatever you decide, do something.

While businesses might not expect that they could be held liable for bad acts by a contractor, the risk is real. Employers have a responsibility to provide their workers with a workplace that is free from harassment. If you allow a contractor to create a hostile work environment, your business can be liable for allowing that environment to persist. The employer’s responsibility is to take “prompt and appropriate corrective action.” 

For Brock Holt, terminating the relationship with the wayward eye-poker was not an option. (His wife reportedly vetoed that proposal. She is probably in HR.) But for businesses whose contractors are accused of harassing employees, terminating the relationship may be the best decision. 

So the answer is yes. Business have a responsibility to provide a workplace that is free from harassment, and the failure to do so may result in liability, even if the harassment is coming from a non-employee. Busiensses can be liable for harassment by contractors if the business knows or should know about the harassment and fails to take prompt and appropriate corrective action.

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

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How Do I Run a Background Check on an Independent Contractor?

How do i run a background check on an independent contractorAfter the events of this past weekend, I don’t have to say anything about the risks involved in allowing dangerous people onto your premises. Before retaining an independent contractor who will have access to your business’s facilities, people, or information, it makes sense to know who you are inviting into your house.

An employment-style background check is often appropriate, but there are a few important differences between background checks being run before hiring an employee and before engaging a non-employee contractor.  [We’re talking here about 1099 contractors, not staffing agency employees.]

If the background check is being run by a third party, then the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is likely to apply. But the rules are different for pre-employment background checks and non-employment background checks.

For pre-employment background checks, certain disclosures must be made before the background check is obtained, and additional disclosures have to be made before you take an “adverse action” based on the result of the background check, such as revoking a conditional offer or not hiring someone. These additional requirements apply only for background checks being run “for employment purposes.”

Ok, Todd. These don’t sound too burdensome. Can’t I just follow the more burdensome pre-employment rules just to be safe?

Yes, sort of. But a few words of caution are in order.

First, your User Agreement with the background check company requires you to certify to the background check company the purposes for which you will be requesting background checks. Review your agreement to see whether you certified that you would only run background checks “for employment purposes.” 

Since this is not a background check being run “for employment purposes,” you need to have another permissible purpose under the FCRA. The law lists several alternatives. Two are likely to apply:  You may obtain a background check (1) “in accordance with the written instructions of the consumer” or (2) if you have “a legitimate business need for the information in connection with a business transaction that is initiated by the consumer.” Here, the “consumer” would be the individual contractor.

You may need to amend your agreement with the background check company before  you run any background checks on potential independent contractors. You never want independent contractors to be considered your employees.

Second, check the federal forms you give to the individual before you run the background check. You do not want to give an independent contractor a Disclosure form or an Authorization form that says your company will run a background check “for employment purposes.” Many generic forms include that phrase because it’s a term of art used in the FCRA. For background checks being run on independent contractors, you don’t want to have the contractor sign a document that can be used to argue you were creating an employment relationship, rather than an independent contractor relationship.

Finally, check the state law forms you are using. If your background check company supplied you with a suite of forms, those forms likely include various disclosures required under state laws. States with additional pre-employment background check requirements include California, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, and Washington State, among others. Almost all of the required state law disclosures, however, apply only to background checks being run “for employment purposes.” Be careful not to use forms with language that could be used to argue you were creating an employment relationship, rather than a contractor relationship.

Final thoughts:  Running a background check on an independent contractor can be a good idea and can bring you and your business some piece of mind. Be careful, though, that you don’t solve one problem by inadvertently creating another.

Background check pitfalls can be prevented if you use the correct forms and documents ahead of time. It’s not that hard to do this correctly, but it requires a some extra attention and care.

If you’d like more information, you can review two earlier blog posts I’ve written on this topic, here and here. Or feel free to contact me directly at tlebowitz@bakerlaw.com.

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

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Do Over for California’s ABC Test? Retroactivity Issue is Headed Back to the State Supreme Court

Independent contractor ABC Test cow

“Placido Domingo’s pretty great, but I also love Pavarotti.”

In Hampshire, England, there is a veterinarian who sings opera to cows.

Now if your spidey-sense is as tingly as mine, you’ll immediately realize there is something wrong with this picture. It’s obvious, right? It should be an opera singer who sings opera to cows, not a veterinarian. Vet school does not include the proper classical training.

While this Hampshire vet has apparently not realized he is out of his lane, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last week did acknowledge it was operating out of its lane in a major case involving independent contractors. The Ninth Circuit is withdrawing a major decision it released in May 2019 and sending that issue to the California Supreme Court instead.

In May, we wrote about the ruling by the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that’s being withdrawn. In that case, the Ninth Circuit ruled that California’s ABC Test (the Dynamex Test) for deciding the Independent Contractor vs. Employee question would apply retroactively. (You can read my seething critique of that ruling, Vazquez v. Jan-Pro, here.)

The Dynamex decision is the one in which the California Supreme Court made up an ABC Test as the new standard for determining whether someone is a contractor or an employee under California’s wage and hour laws (claims of overtime, minimum wage, meal and rest breaks, etc.). The ramifications are enormous for California businesses.

Now back to the May 2019 Vazquez ruling. In that case, the Ninth Circuit ruled that California businesses should have been applying the ABC Test that was made up in Dynamex, even though that test did not yet exist. Seems pretty unfair, doesn’t it? Very unfair.

Last week, the Ninth Circuit withdrew its ruling in the May 2019 Vazquez case. This is half good news, not all good news.

The Ninth Circuit didn’t concded that its May 2019 decision was wrong (even though it was, heh heh). Rather, the Ninth Circuit decided that — like a veterinarian singing opera to cows — it had been operating out of its lane. The Ninth Circuit now says that the California Supreme Court — not the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals  —  should be the one to decide whether the ABC Test applies retroactively.

The California Supreme Court case is definitely one to watch. Industry groups from around the country are likely to weigh in. Many will file amicus briefs (non-party “friend of the court” memos) to try to persuade the court that retroactivity would be unfair and would have significant negative effects on California businesses and the state’s economy.

For now, the question of whether the Dynamex ABC Test applies retroactively is again unresolved. That means there is a period of a few years extending back from April 2018 in which nobody knows what the test is for determining whether someone was then an employee or an independent contractor under California’s wage and hour laws.

That’s important because the are a lot of lawsuits alleging that independent contractors are misclassified. Some have been decided, some have not. Could some cases that were already decided be reopened?

We’ll keep an eye on this case as it makes its way through the California Supreme Court. We’ll also be watching for new developments among bovine opera aficionados. I want to know whether the cows think this veterinarian singer is any good.

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

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Will NY Lawmakers Create a New Class of “Dependent Contractors”? If So, It Could Be a Work of Art.

Horse no shadow - independent contractor misclassification - dependent contractor - Todd Lebowitz

This piece of art hung in the bedroom at the apartment I rented on my recent vacation in Paris. See the shadow of the dog? Yep. See the shadow of the horse? Yep. See the shadow of the rider?

Oops. I expected it to be there. Chalk up another win for bad art.

Art requires creativity and, sometimes, a different perspective. Things are not always the way we expect them to be. That can be due to oversight (such as with bad art) or due to creativity. New York lawmakers are looking at new ways to approach the Independent Contractor vs. Employee question, and under one recent proposal, lawmakers could get creative.

A proposed bill would create the status of dependent worker, allowing gig workers to form quasi-unions to negotiate fees and directing the state to hold public hearings exploring ways to provide other rights to gig workers, such as minimum wage and anti-discrimination protections.

The bill was withdrawn just before summer recess, but the question will be revisited in the next legislative session. 

Some worker groups say the bill does not go far enough. Many worker advocates would like to see a new law that presumes all gig workers to be employees, unless the hiring party can prove an exception. ABC Tests are one example of that type of law. Business groups seem more open to the proposal, recognizing that labor laws probably need to start recognizing a middle ground between employees and independent contractors. (You can read more about that movement here, in last week’s post.)

We’ll have to wait until the fall, when New York lawmakers return to Albany, to see how this plays out in New York. In the meantime, if anyone is looking for something fun to do during summer break, I know of at least one amateur French painter who could use some tutoring.

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

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