Inspired by Animal House? NLRB May Force Long-Term Change to Joint Employment Test

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“What? Over? Did you say “over”? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!” —Bluto

The Republican-majority NLRB has been trying to figure out how to overturn the Browning-Ferris joint employment standard without running into conflicts of interest. It tried in December 2017, when it set a new test in Hy-Brand, but then backed off a few months later after allegations that Member Emanuel had a conflict of interest and should not have participated. The Browning-Ferris test went back into effect.

Two members of the Board come from large law firms and may face allegations of conflicts of interest if they vote to overturn Browning-Ferris.

But did you say it’s over? Nothing is over until we decide it is!

The Board announced last week that it is not giving up. Instead, it is planning a new way for changing the joint employment test. This plan, if successful, may mean a new test that is not subject to flip-flopping every time the NLRB majority flip-flops between Ds and Rs (as it does whenever there’s a new President from the other party.)

The new plan involves crafting a rule through the administrative rulemaking process. Sounds boring (and it is). The tedious rulemaking process includes issuing a public notice of the proposed new rule and a comment period.  Then, the Board gets to ignore any negative comments and adopt the rule.

The process takes time, but like a tiny water bacterium with a funny name, the new rule would be sticky.

From livescience.com: The tiny water bacterium Caulobacter crescentus secretes a sugary substance so sticky that just a tiny bit could withstand the pull from lifting several cars at once. With an adhesive force of nearly five tons per square inch, this “glue” is one of nature’s strongest.

The new rule would actually go in the books as a regulation, which future Board members would be obligated to follow.

It’s a sound strategy if it works.

The new rule would presumably resemble the rule the Board tries to enact in the Hy-Brand decision, which makes it much harder to show that a business is a joint employer. The new test presumably would require “joint control over essential employment terms” and would require control that is “direct and immediate,” not “limited and routine.”

For businesses that use other vendors’ workers (such as staffing agencies) and face the risk of being named a joint employer, this is an important development. Keep an eye on this one.

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

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California’s New Killer Bee: How Should Businesses Deal with Part B of California’s New Independent Contractor Test?

California ABC test Dynamex Killer Part BAccording to pestworld.org, Africanized honey bees have been known to chase people for more than a quarter mile once they get excited and aggressive. This is why they earned the nickname “killer bee.”

In its recent Dynamex decision, the California Supreme has introduced its own Killer B into California wage and hour law. This new Killer B could make plaintiffs’ lawyers excited and aggressive, chasing down businesses that use independent contractors and filing lawsuits alleging they are really employees. Those lawsuits could really sting!

Today we look at two questions: What is the new Killer Part B, and what do businesses need to know about it?

What’s the Issue?

Several states now use ABC Tests to determine whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor, at least under certain state laws. California joined the party with its 4/30/18 Supreme Court decision (Dynamex), adopting an ABC Test to determine who is an employee under most of California’s wage and hour laws.

Part B of the new California test can be difficult to meet. To be a true independent contractor, the worker must be performing work that is outside the hiring party’s “usual course of business.” We’ll call this a Strict ABC Test.

Some states have a more forgiving version of an ABC Test, allowing Part B to be satisfied if the worker performs the services either outside the usual scope of business or off of the hiring party’s premises. New Jersey, Illinois, and Connecticut use the more forgiving test. We’ll call that version the Standard ABC Test.

What’s the Concern with Part B in California’s New Test?

Part B can be hard to meet.  Lots of workers who are otherwise independent contractors will be considered employees because of Part B — especially under a California-style Strict ABC Test. If the type of services being provided are within the hiring party’s “usual course of business,” the worker must be treated as an employee under California’s wage orders.

Although this Strict ABC Test is new to California employers, it’s not new to multi-state employers. Massachusetts has been using a Strict ABC Test for its wage and hour laws since 2004, when it passed the Massachusetts Independent Contractor Law. In 2008, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office issued an advisory memo on its interpretation of the law, especially Part B.

What Can We Learn From Massachusetts?

The key to success under Part B is establishing that the contractor’s services are outside of the “usual course” of your business. That means the contractor does something that your business doesn’t do.

Companies should consider taking steps to define more precisely its “usual business,” and then memorialize that in multiple ways — internally, externally (website: About Us page?), and contractually in agreements with independent contractors.  Keep in mind the importance of differentiating between the scope of what your business does and the scope of what the independent contractor will be doing.  If you want to satisfy Part B, these things should be different.

You may need to define the scope of your services more narrowly. For example, if your business sells appliances but retains independent contractors to install them, you might take steps to define the scope of your business as “selling appliances but not installing them.” Consider adding language to your contracts, website, and other documents to make this distinction clear.

This is just one of many strategies that businesses in California and Massachusetts should be prepared to implement. Being proactive is the key to avoiding claims of independent contractor misclassification. Evaluate and modify your independent contractor relationships and contracts now, not after you have been sued.

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

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What is California’s new ABC Test, and What Does It Mean for Businesses?

Dynamex ABC test california

What just happened?

Last week, we reported here on the California Supreme Court’s Dynamex decision. Today’s post takes a deeper dive.

In Dynamex, the California Supreme Court adopted one of the strictest tests in the nation for determining whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. The new test is used to determine whether a worker is an “employee” under California’s Industrial Wage Commission (IWC) wage orders. The wage orders require “employees” to be paid minimum wage and overtime, and to receive meal and rest breaks (unless exempt). Under this new test, a lot of independent contractors might now be “employees.”

The new test is an ABC Test. Unlike the balancing tests that start with the scales set equally, the new Dynamex ABC Test begins with the presumption that any worker performing services for your business is your employee. Guilty until proven innocent.

To overcome that presumption, the business must meet all three prongs of the new ABC Test. To prove that the worker is an independent contractor (and that the California wage orders do not apply), the business must be able to show:

(A) the worker 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, and
(B) the worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business, and
(C) the worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business.

If the business fails to meet all three prongs of this test, the worker is an employee for purposes of the wage orders. Case closed. Done deal. The other factors don’t even matter.

What does that mean? You must provide the worker a minimum wage, overtime, and meal and rest breaks (subject to exemptions, if applicable). It doesn’t matter that you have an Independent Contractor Agreement, and it doesn’t matter if the worker agrees to be an independent contractor status. (Here’s why.)

What was the basis for the California Supreme Court’s decision?

The Court’s decision was based on its analysis of the definition of “employ” under the IWC wage orders. The Court concluded that this definition was intended to cover a broader range of relationships than common law employer-employee relationships.

The wage orders define employ as “to engage, suffer, or permit to work.” This language originated in 1916, with the passage of state laws designed to prevent the exploitation of child laborers. The idea was that if you allow children to work for you, you are going to follow certain legal requirements. To prevent funny business, an intentionally broad definition of “employ” was used.

Those familiar with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) will recall that it too uses a broader definition of “employ” than most other federal laws. The FLSA definition of employ is “to suffer or permit to work.” That sure sounds a lot like the California definition, so shouldn’t California just apply the same Economic Realities Test as used to determine whether someone is an employee under the FLSA? Oh, my dear sweet naive friend, that would be too simple. And California doesn’t like simple.

The California Supreme Court went out of its way to point out that California came up with its language first and that it never intended to follow the FLSA test. Really, it says that. So there.

In Dynamex, the California Supreme Court concluded that where the definition of “employ” is “to engage, suffer, or permit to work,” the intent is to cover a broader range of individuals than common law employees and, from now on, the way to determine whether someone is an “employee” under the “engage, suffer, or permit to work” standard is to apply the new ABC Test. The IWC wage orders use this broad definition, and so the wage orders will now apply to any relationship where an individual provides services, unless all three prongs of the ABC Test are met.

But why change now?

If you are asking yourself why the test would change now — when that same definition has been in place for 102 years, when there has been no new law passed by the California legislature, and when no new regulations have been enacted — the answer is what you tell your kids when you’re too tired to explain why: Because I said so.

Really. The Court just said so. Nothing in the law has changed. The new, strict ABC Test did not come from a new law. It came from Massachusetts. Thank you, Massachusetts. Next time just send lobster rolls.

What about the other wacky California employment laws?

Most California employment laws use a more traditional definition of employee, not the broad “engage, suffer, or permit to work” definition. Under these other laws, therefore, the test for determining whether someone is an employee is (we think) unchanged. For the most part, the S.G. Borello test should continue to apply.

The S.G. Borello test stems from a 1989 California Supreme Court decision and is a hybrid Right to Control/Economic Realities balancing test.

Under S.G. Borello, the primary question is whether the hiring party retains the right to control the worker, both as to the work done and the manner and means in which it is performed. If yes, the worker is an employee. If it is unclear, then secondary factors are considered.

Secondary factors include:

1. Whether the person performing services is engaged in an occupation or business distinct from that of the principal;
2. Whether or not the work is a part of the regular business of the principal or alleged employer;
3. Whether the principal or the worker supplies the instrumentalities, tools, and the place for the person doing the work;
4. The alleged employee’s investment in the equipment or materials required by his or her task or his or her employment of helpers;
5. Whether the service rendered requires a special skill;
6. The kind of occupation, with reference to whether, in the locality, the work is usually done under the direction of the principal or by a specialist without supervision;
7. The alleged employee’s opportunity for profit or loss depending on his or her managerial skill;
8. The length of time for which the services are to be performed;
9. The degree of permanence of the working relationship;
10. The method of payment, whether by time or by the job; and
11. Whether or not the parties believe they are creating an employer-employee relationship may have some bearing on the question, but is not determinative since this is a question of law based on objective tests.

The court or agency then mixes all of these factors into a witch’s cauldron, blends them together, sprinkles in a pinch of eye of newt, waits for the smoke to clear, and then declares that, based on an analysis of the multiple factors, the worker must be an … (insert answer here). The S.G. Borello test is a balancing test, subject to interpretation. It’s gray.

California does have some other strict tests. The Dynamex ABC Test is not the only one. For example, strict tests apply in the construction industry and for the performance of work where a license is required but not obtained. Under those scenarios, like under IWC wage orders, it’s much harder to maintain independent contractor status than it is under a law that applies the S.G. Borello test.

What about federal laws? Do those still apply too?

Hahahahahahaha! You bet they do! Employers in California are still required to follow the FLSA, which determines whether someone is an employee by using an Economic Realities Test. Yes, lucky California business owners, this means your worker could be an employee under the strict ABC Test imposed by Dynamex and therefore subject to California minimum wage and overtime rules; but, at the same time, the same worker might be a legitimate independent contractor under the Economic Realities Test and therefore not subject to federal minimum wage and overtime law. Well that’s confusing.

Right to Control Tests govern the determination of whether someone is an employee under federal tax law, anti-discrimination law, and employee benefits law. As we discussed here, it’s certainly possible to be an employee under one law but an independent contractor under another law.

With the introduction of the strict Dynamex ABC Test, that will happen more often, ensuring full employment for lawyers like me.

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

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California’s Top Court Creates New Test for Independent Contractor vs. Employee, Re-Interprets 102-Year Old Definition

horse race dynamexA three-way horse race can be exciting. As the finish line gets closer, each horse seems to dig deeper and find a little extra something to try to pull ahead. (Or gets whipped. Whatever. Stay with me here.)

It’s been a nail-biter over the past several years, with California, New Jersey, and Massachusetts competing to see which state could create the most difficult test for maintaining independent contractor status in wage and hour cases. For years, courts have used an Economic Realities balancing test for determining Independent Contractor vs. Employee status under federal wage and hour law. Most states apply a variant of that test or apply a Right to Control Test for determining Who Is My Employee? under their wage and hour laws.

In 2004, however, the Plymouth Rockers surged ahead, passing a law that used an ABC Test to determine whether someone is an employee or an independent contractor under Massachusetts’ minimum wage and overtime laws. ABC Tests make it harder to prove that a worker is truly an independent contractor (and not an employee), as we’ll see in more detail below. In 2015, the Home of Bruce Springsteen pushed forward, with the New Jersey Supreme Court requiring businesses to Prove It All Night and adopting an ABC Test for its state wage and hour laws.

Poor California was left behind. (No Surrender?) The state that birthed the Eagles and Hotel California did not rewrite its wage and hour laws and did not adopt an ABC Test. Finding no help from the legislature, the California Supreme Court took it upon itself April 30th to whip the Golden State forward, creating a new ABC Test in its 82-page Dynamex decision.

Let’s be clear about what just happened:

  • There’s no new law.
  • There’s no new regulation.
  • There’s no new executive order.

In fact, the definition of “employ” that this decision is based upon has been the same since Year 4 of the Woodrow Wilson presidency.

But now, despite none of those things changing, there’s a new test — at least for wage and hour claims that are covered under California IWC wage orders.

An ABC Test sets a higher bar than a Right to Control Test or an Economic Realities Test. It also sets a higher bar than California’s S.G. Borello test, which is a hybrid Right to Control/Economic Realities Test that has been in place since 1989.

California’s new ABC Test starts with the presumption that, for claims covered under California wage orders, every worker is an employee. Then, to prove otherwise, the business retaining that worker must prove (all 3):

(A) the worker 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, and 

(B) the worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business, and 

(C) the worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business.

Fail just one part, and the worker is an employee under California wage and hour law. This new test is even stricter than most other states’ ABC Tests, which usually include two ways that Part B can be satisfied.

The new Dynamex test applies only to claims brought under California wage orders. These claims generally include minimum wage, overtime, and meal and rest break claims. This test does not apply to claims such as failure to reimburse expenses or failure to provide employee benefits.

Good luck out there!

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

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Restaurant Can Decline to Pay Workers if They Are Church Volunteers, Says Appeals Court

Angley

Serving God by serving mashed potatoes

According to TV evangelist Rev. Ernest Angley, the Cathedral Buffet is “the Lord’s buffet,” and members of his church, Grace Cathedral, are expected to volunteer when Rev. Angley asks. Although the church’s restaurant had paid employees, it was sometimes short-staffed and looked to parishioners to help — as unpaid volunteers. Rev. Angley has been controversial in the past (google “Rev Angley never actually touched his …”), but this controversy is SFW.

The Department of Labor sued the church, claiming that the volunteers were doing the same work as the restaurant’s employees, and therefore they had to be paid like employees. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires at least a minimum wage.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, has sided with Rev. Angley. The Court ruled that if workers do not expect to get paid, they are volunteers and not employees, which means they are not covered by the FLSA.

There is one exception, though. If someone is coerced to work for free, the volunteer rule does not apply. The Court noted that when the restaurant was short-staffed, Rev. Angley would “ask” for volunteers.

But here’s what we mean by “ask”: He would instruct churchgoers that “[e]very time you say no, you are closing the door on God.” He suggested that church members who repeatedly refused to volunteer at the restaurant were at risk of “blaspheming against the Holy Ghost,” which was an unforgivable sin in the church’s doctrine.

Is that coercion?

Yes, maybe, but it’s not the kind of coercion covered under the law. The Court ruled that the coercion exception applies only to economic coercion, not spiritual coercion. To summarize:

  • If working for free is required by your powerful boss, that’s economic coercion. Illegal.
  • But if working for free is required by a higher power, that’s spiritual coercion. Not illegal.

The Court of Appeals stressed religious freedom. If church member volunteers have no expectation of being paid when working for a church-run enterprise, they are volunteers and not employees. The expectation of compensation “is a threshold inquiry that must be satisfied before” applying the FLSA.

The decision reversed a judgment of nearly $400,000 against the church.

Trip advisor reviews of the Cathedral Buffet, as expected, are hilarious, with Duane H of Stow describing the buffet as “akin to nursing home food.” Hooliganmom accused the mashed potatoes of being “fake” and says she preferred her high school cafeteria.

Unfortunately for curiosity seekers (or volunteers) living near Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, the buffet is now permanently closed.

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

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New California Law Aims to Punish Contractors for Wage Violations They Did Not Commit. Huh?

EA9758A9-CA27-4BE3-B11B-53338CF1CEB1

Suppose you are a general contractor, hired to erect a monument to honor Carlos Santana’s monument-worthy performance of the national anthem during last year’s NBA Finals. Because the monument will be so tall (to house the many awards he should win for it), you need to hire subcontractors. Suppose the subcontractors cheat their employees, though, and don’t pay them a proper wage.

Under a new California law, the general contractor is strictly liable for the sub’s wage violations.

There’s no balancing test. No Right to Control Test. No joint employment finding needed. It’s strict liability. Call it the Jerry Brown corollary to Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn Rule. Someone else breaks it, you own it.

I hear you: “Not fair!” But as we all know, fair is not a required feature element of employment law in California. (Fair may still be an element of due process, however, for those who may seek to challenge the constitutionality of this law.)

The new law, cleverly titled “Section 218.7,” took effect January 1, 2018.

To try to protect themselves, contractors may require their subs to show proof of payment by the subs to its employees. They may also tell noncompliant subs, “you’ve got to change your evil ways, baby, before I start loving you.” But most contractors probably won’t say that.

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

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NLRB Roller Coaster Ride on Joint Employment Rolls On

roller-coaster-NLRB joint employment test

I used to go to summer camp in Georgia, and the highlight of the summer was always a trip to Six Flags, where we would ride the Mindbender roller coaster. My coaster days are over, thanks to two back surgeries and a desire to remain upright and mobile, but watching the NLRB lately brings back memories of the sharp turns, fast drops, and tight spirals.

Yesterday, the Senate approved John Ring’s nomination as the third NLRB member, returning the Board to a Republican majority. (The vote was 50-48, like halftime in the NBA.)

With three Republican members, we can expect the Board to quickly find another opportunity to overturn Browning-Ferris and return the joint employment test to a more rational standard that requires a finding of direct, material control before a company can be deemed a joint employer.

There are a few ways this might happen.

Plan A is that the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals could help. In an unusual move, the Court of Appeals agreed late last week to re-open the Browning-Ferris appeal.

The Court of Appeals had dismissed the appeal several weeks ago as moot, after the NLRB issued its Hy-Brand decision, which overturned Browning-Ferris. But after the NLRB said “my bad” and vacated its Hy-Brand decision, the Board asked the Court of Appeals to take the case back and to issue a ruling on what the proper joint employment standard should be. On Friday, the Court of Appeals re-opened the case and will soon issue a decision.

If the Court of Appeals says the Browning-Ferris case was wrongly decided by the Obama Board, then the newly constituted NLRB can hop on that bandwagon and decide to adopt that decision as its new test.

On the other hand, if the Court of Appeals affirms Browning-Ferris, the NLRB will just ignore the decision and move to Plan B or C.

Plan B would be to get Hy-Brand back on the books as good law. That would mean reinstating the Hy-Brand test as the proper standard for determining joint employment. The Hy-Brand test would require direct and material control before a business can be deemed a joint employer under labor law. The NLRB’s General Counsel recently chastised the Board for vacating its own Hy-Brand decision without following the usual rules for recusal.

If that fails, there’s Plan C, which seems more viable now that John Ring has restored the NLRB to a 3-2 Republican majority. The Board can find a new case — other than Hy-Brand — and adopt the revised business-friendly joint employment test that the NLRB tried to adopt in Hy-Brand.

Plan C would require finding a case that allows Board Members Ring and Emanuel to dodge any conflict issues, as they both come from large law firms with lengthy client lists, which is precisely the problem that led to Hy-Brand being vacated in the first place. Too many potential conflicts. They will need to find a clean case with no apparent conflicts, but that can be done.

Meanwhile, this has been a roller coaster ride. The NLRB will eventually settle on a new joint employment standard (I expect), just like the Mindbender eventually settles back down on a straightaway and slows down to let off the riders — who, like NLRB-watchers, are now dizzy and disoriented.

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

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