This weekend we tried goat yoga. Highly recommended. It was a mix of basic yoga (my kind of yoga) to help get me stretched out, but held in a pen with goats who know no boundaries.
We then toured the farm, which featured llamas, long-haired pigs, guinea hens, a few obligatory dogs, and several varieties of goats, including the kind of fainting goats featured in that George Clooney movie.
Having to watch my back during yoga was something I signed up for and was part of the fun. Not so for California’s AB 5, which should be watching its back after what we saw at the Ninth Circuit last week.
The Ninth Circuit held oral argument in a case brought by Uber called Olson v State of California. Uber is arguing that AB 5 is unconstitutional.
While it’s hard to predict cases based on oral argument, the three judges on the panel seemed pretty sympathetic to Uber’s argument, which is that the statute arbitrarily picks winners and losers, i.e., the exemptions make no sense from an equal protection/due process standpoint.
Unlike the strict ABC Test in Massachusetts, the California ABC Test codified in AB 5 (and later AB 2257) contains loads of exceptions. The statute says to use the ABC Test to determine employee vs independent contractor status for all workers — except for dozens of categories of workers and various other situations.
Let’s not pretend. We all know this bill was written to target ride share and delivery app companies. The unfairness of making this law apply to everyone soon became apparent and led to the insertion of dozens of exceptions. If an exception applies, the Borello balancing test applies instead of the ABC Test.
The exceptions just about swallow the rule, and a law targeting a handful of companies presents constitutional problems. Or so the argument goes.
We can expect a decision in the next few months, and this is one to watch. Unlike me at goat yoga, imagining a decision that strikes down or severely limits AB 5 is not a big stretch.
For businesses using independent contractor vendors, misclassification claims are usually well-suited for class certification. A plaintiff’s path toward certifying a class can be relatively smooth when all vendors of a particular kind are treated as contractors. The argument goes that if one is misclassified, all are misclassified.
But a new Ninth Circuit ruling may help businesses change the path toward class certification into a dead-end road.
Click here to read the rest of the post, originally published on BakerHostetler’s Employment Class Action Blog.
Have you heard? There’s a baby goat in Pakistan who may have set the world record for Longest Ears by a Goat. The ears are each 1.6 feet long. Which also means there’s category for Longest Ears by a Goat.
The goat, named Simba, reportedly trips on its ears, which are so long that they drag on the ground. That’s a problem, I hear.
I’m also hearing of a problem in Massachusetts, but it’s of a different sort entirely.
Efforts to add exceptions to Massachusetts’ ABC Test for independent contractor misclassification have been scuttled by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court. A ballot measure modeled after California’s Prop 22* would have created exemptions to support independent contractor status for app-based rideshare and delivery drivers. The Court, however, ruled that the proposed ballot measure covered too many subjects and could not lawfully be placed on the ballot.
What does all this mean?
As many of you know, Massachusetts has the toughest test in the nation when it comes to classifying independent contractors. Under Massachusetts wage and hour law, a worker is deemed an employee unless —
A) the individual is free from control and direction in connection with the performance of the service, both under his contract for the performance of service and in fact; and
B) the service is performed outside the usual course of the business of the employer; and,
C) the individual is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, profession or business of the same nature as that involved in the service performed.
That’s a strict ABC Test, like California’s. But California’s ABC Test has a slew of exceptions, memorialized in AB 2257, formerly AB 5. The Massachusetts Independent Contractor Law has no exceptions, which makes Massachusetts a favorite venue for plaintiffs’ lawyers who like to bring misclassification cases.
With the ballot measure struck down, voters will not have an opportunity to pass a Prop 22-like bill in Massachusetts that would have allowed app-based rideshare and delivery drivers to maintain independent contractor status, so long as certain requirements were met.
States with ABC Tests continue to pose significant compliance risks for businesses that rely on independent contractors. It’s easy to trip and fall, regardless of the size of one’s goat ears.
*California’s Prop 22 is in limbo too. As explained here, a state court ruled the ballot measure unconstitutional. The issue is now on appeal.
I drove behind this band of safety-conscious paddle boarders near Chicago recently. The guy in back is secured in by bungy cord. At least he looks comfortable.
The NLRB is about to make things a lot more uncomfortable for businesses concerned about joint employment.
As discussed here, the NLRB made clear earlier this year that it wants to revamp the independent contractor vs. employee test under the National Labor Relations Act.
Expect a new rule on joint employment to drop any day. The NLRB indicated several months ago that the joint employment rule was a target in its rulemaking agenda, and the expected release date is July 00, 2022.
Like most of you, I switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar in 1752. While the changeover caused 11 days in September 1752 to be lost, I missed the memo about inserting a 0th day in July, starting 270 years later. Since I could find no way to mark the expected release date in my iPhone, I’ll give the NRLB the benefit of doubt and assume the date is a placeholder for “sometime in July.”
On Friday, it will be “sometime in July.” So get your bungy cord ready. You may need to take steps to better protect your business against joint employment risks.
The new rule will displace the current Trump-era regulation, which currently requires direct and substantial control over essential terms and conditions of employment before joint employment can be found.
Expect the new rule to track the Browning-Ferrisstandard imposed by the Board in 2015. Under Browning-Ferris, when one company has the right to control aspects of the work, joint employment exists — regardless of whether control is actually exerted, and regardless of whether the control is over wages, hours, scheduling or anything else that fits within the meaning of essential terms and conditions.
Joint employment under the NLRA can have several effects:
1. It can force you to the bargaining table for matters involving workers you did not consider to be your employees.
2. It can open the door to bargaining units that include workers you didn’t think were your employees.
3. It can open another door to bring union organizing activity into your business – through non-employee workers.
4. It can convert illegal secondary picketing into lawful primary picketing. If another company’s employees picket your site but the workers turn out to be your joint employees, they have the right to be there.
5. Each business that is a joint employer may be found jointly and severally liable for the other’s unfair labor practices.
When the new rule is posted, we’ll discuss what employers should do in response. Until then, enjoy the summer and try paddle boarding. But try to use a car with enough seats.
I saw this truck while driving home last week from my daughter’s college graduation. Now I’m no livestock dietician (I failed that course in law school), but this seems like the worst possible thing to feed your animals.
Whoever’s behind the labeling also needs some help with marketing. I know I wouldn’t buy that.
I’m also not buying the DOL’s recent announcement that it’s holding two public forums to help it decide what to do about a new independent contractor misclassification test. I think we all know what the DOL is going to do already.
The DOL will hold an Employer Forum on June 24, then a Worker Forum on June 29. Anyone can attend. RSVP links are here (6/24) and here (6/29).
After this charade open-minded exchange of viewpoints, the DOL will get to work preparing a new rule for determining who is an employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The current regulation, issued by the Trump DOL, refocuses the traditional Economic Realities Test inquiry on two core factors: (1) the nature and degree of the individual’s control over the work, and (2) the individual’s opportunity for profit or loss. The Biden DOL tried (unsuccessfully) to prevent the Trump rule from going into effect, but a federal court ruled that the Biden DOL’s attempt to dismantle the rule was flawed, and the Trump rule therefore went into effect.
Now, let’s not kid ourselves. Just because a court told the Biden DOL that it’s stuck with this Trump-made rule doesn’t mean anyone at the DOL is actually applying it. The Biden DOL has said it plans to rewrite the rule, pronto. The new rule will make it harder to classify workers as independent contractors under the FLSA. We already know that’s going to happen, even if we don’t know the precise language to be used.
In late 2022, the DOL will issue its new rule, which will be like the old rule that we had before the Trump DOL’s new rule. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. And with each new administration, it will become harder then easier then harder to be classified as a contractor under the FLSA.
So I will not be wasting my time listening in on these forums. I expect they’ll be as useful as inedible food. Which cannot be good for the GI tract.
I just got back from Miami, where this happened. According to The Miami Herald, a very badass bobcat was caught on video taunting a 120-lb python by swatting at it and eating its eggs. Despite giving up 100 lbs to the python, the bobcat reigned supreme. Unbeknownst to our friends in the animal kingdom, there are easier ways to get an omelet.
This week’s post is also about fighting over who reigns supreme. But this battle is between the FTC Franchise Rule and the ABC Test for determining independent contractor vs employee status. Sounds exciting? (I know!)
In Massachusetts, there is a strict ABC Test for determining employee status. This is the hardest ABC Test to meet in the US. It is the same as California‘s test but lacks the exceptions found in California law.
ABC Tests have been viewed in the business community as a threat to the franchising model of doing business. On one hard, franchisors must exert control over their franchisees to ensure brand consistency. On the other hand, exerting control is a sign of employment and could turn a franchisee into the franchisor’s employee.
In Patel v. 7-Eleven, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court was asked whether the ABC Test can be used to determine employment status in a dispute between a franchisor and franchisee. The franchisor, 7-Eleven, argued that the state law test is incompatible with the FTC Franchise Rule and should therefore be disregarded in the franchise context.
The Court ruled that the ABC Test still applies, reversing the earlier decision I wrote about here, in this super fun but now outdated Electric Grandma-themed post.
The Court explained that the FTC Franchise Rule deals with control over the “method of operations,” not control over the method of “performing service”:
“[C]ontrol over the franchisee’s method of operation” does not require a franchisor to exercise “control and direction” in connection with the franchisee’s “performing any service” for the franchisor — the relevant inquiry under the first prong of the ABC test. That the election under the FTC Franchise Rule and the first prong of the ABC test employ the same word — control — does not create an inherent conflict. Indeed, “significant control” over a franchisee’s “method of operation” and “control and direction” of an individual’s “performance of services” are not necessarily coextensive.
I dissent. (Can I do that?)
The lines get awfully blurry awfully fast. The differences the Court relies on are subtle differences. In many respects, control over the operation seems to requires control over how services are performed. Your burger at one franchise looks and tastes the same as your burger at another franchise because the method for making that burger has to be essentially the same. It’s true that the franchisor doesn’t control a franchisee’s schedule or hiring process. But how well will a jury understand that the franchisor’s control is over the “operation,” but not over the “services”?
The Court’s ruling does not mean franchisees in Massachusetts are going to be considered employees now, but it does make it more challenging for a defendant/franchisor to explain the subtle distinctions in types of control.
I don’t know who in this scenario is the bobcat and who is the python, and I certainly don’t know who would be the one eating the eggs. But like the python vs. bobcat confrontation, there’s a definite clash here, and it’s an uncomfortable and confusing situation for everyone. The Massachusetts Supreme Court certainly didn’t do anything to make it easier to apply the ABC Test, and independent contractor misclassification remains a serious risk for franchisors who comply with franchising requirements.
There’s an optical illusion known as a negative afterimage. If you stare at the red dot on this woman’s nose for about 15 seconds, then look at a blank wall, you’ll see the woman on your wall – but in full color and with dark hair. And yet, there is no woman on your wall.
You see what isn’t there because the illusion tricks the photoreceptors in your retina.
Monday’s ruling by a federal judge in Texas also has us seeing what isn’t there – or what was there and then wasn’t there – or something like that, but with respect to the test for independent contractor classification.
In early January 2021, the Trump DOL issued a new regulation that sought to provide clarity on how to determine whether someone is an employee or an independent contractor under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Even though the FLSA is a federal law that is supposed to apply everywhere, different courts around the country used different versions of the FLSA’s Economic Realities Test to make that determination.
Under the new regulation, 29 CFR Part 795, there would be just one test. It was simple, and the same rule would apply all over the country. The regulation was scheduled to take effect March 8, 2021. But a few days before the effective date, the Biden Administration postponed implementation of the new rule. Then in May, they rescinded it. They replaced it with nothing. If you go to the Code of Federal Regulations, there is no 29 CFR Part 795. (Here, try it!)
But Monday’s ruling said to stare a little harder. It’s there.
The court ruled that the Biden Administration’s effort to delay and then withdraw Part 795 was unlawful and violated the Administrative Procedure Act. The delay provided too short a comment period, failing to offer the public a meaningful period to provide input. The withdrawal was improper because the DOL failed to consider alternatives and instead “left regulated parties without consistent guidance.”
Because the delay and withdrawal of the Trump era rule were deemed unlawful, the court ruled that Part 795 did, in fact, go into effect March 8, 2021, and “remains in effect.”
So now you probably want to know what the rule is, since you cannot find it online in the Code of Federal Regulations – at least as of Tuesday night.
The test in Part 795 identifies two “core factors” for determining the independent contractor vs. employee question under the FLSA. If both factors point in the same direction, the issue is generally decided. If the core factors point in different directions, three “other factors” are considered.
• The nature and degree of the individual’s control over the work; and
• The individual’s opportunity for profit or loss.
The control factor supports independent contractor status if the worker “exercises substantial control over key aspects of the work,” including setting schedules, selecting projects, and being allowed to work for others.
The profit or loss factor weighs in favor of independent contractor status if the worker has the opportunity to earn profits or incur losses based on the exercise of initiative, managerial skill, business acumen or judgment, or based on management of his or her own investments or capital expenditures. Examples of investments may include hiring helpers or buying equipment.
If the two core factors do not determine the issue, three other factors are to be considered:
• Amount of skill required for the work;
• Degree of permanence of the working relationship between the individual and the potential employer; and
• Whether the work is part of an integrated unit of production.
Amount of skill required. This factor weighs in favor of independent contractor status if the work requires specialized skill or training that the potential employer does not provide.
Degree of permanence. This factor weighs in favor of independent contractor status if the work is definite in duration or sporadic. This factor supports employee status if the work is indefinite. Work that is seasonal by nature does not weigh in favor of independent contractor status, even though it’s definite in duration.
Whether the work is part of an integrated unit of production. This factor is likely to receive the heaviest criticism from worker advocates. The “integrated unit of production” factor comes from a pair of 1947 U.S. Supreme Court cases. Over the years, this factor has morphed into the question of whether the work is “integral” to the potential employer’s business. Part 795 takes a firm stance here, saying that — based on the 1947 Supreme Court decisions — the relevant question is whether the work is “integrated,” not whether it is “integral.”
This factor weighs in favor of independent contractor status if the work is “segregable” from the potential employer’s processes for a good or service. For example, a production line is an integrated process for creating a good. A software development program may require an integrated process for creating a computer program. Work that is performed outside of an integrated unit of production is more likely performed by an independent contractor.
What Happens Now?
First, the DOL can appeal the decision to the Fifth Circuit. We expect that will happen. In the meantime, a stay might be issued or might not be issued.
Second, Part 795 is now in effect, unless a stay is issued.
Third, it’s a fair question how much this really matters anyway. The test was not intended to change the outcome in most instances. It was instead intended to articulate more clearly how these determinations were already being made. The two “core factors” were already determinative in almost all cases, even if courts were not explicitly identifying two factors as being most important. Also, the Circuit Courts of Appeal do not have to adopt the DOL’s interpretation of the test. They can go on using their five-part and six-part tests, or they can apply the Part 795 analysis.
The Part 795 should now be the applicable test. But we shall see.
If you stare hard enough at your handy copy of the Code of Federal Regulations, and then look at a blank wall, Part 795 just might appear.
I like long songs. For the last several weeks, I have been starting my workday with the Pink Floyd album Atom Heart Mother on my headphones. The opening track is 23 minutes, and the album ends with “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast,” a 13-minute journey that includes lines like “um, flakes” and “marmalade, I like marmalade.”
Long litigation, on the other hand – I’m not a fan. When I was an associate, I worked on a healthcare fraud case that lasted about 8 years. Not fun.
The legal team at Sleepy’s LLC probably doesn’t like long litigation either. Hargrove v. Sleepy’sLLC is an independent contractor misclassification case that was filed in 2010. The case has been to the Third Circuit twice already and went to the New Jersey Supreme Court on the certified question of what test should be used to determine employee status under New Jersey wage and hour law. I wrote about that 2015 ruling here in a post that also takes an admiring look at one menu option at an ice cream parlor in Dania Beach, Florida. (Partial spoiler: ABC Test. But you’ll have to read the post to see about the menu option.)
This case is back in the news after a new set of rulings.
After 12 years, the court issued a decision last week to grant class certification and to deny the defendant’s motions to dismiss. These are issues that are typically resolved in the first several months of a case.
The point here is to show you how long and complicated an independent contractor misclassification case can become. This is not straightforward litigation, and there are so many legal issues that can dominate the underlying dispute — questions, for example, about class certification, class size, jurisdiction, standing, and which legal test to use for deciding whether misclassification exists.
This case is a good reminder of the importance of getting your independent contractor arrangements reviewed and your contracts revised. Preventive steps taken now can help avoid lengthy litigation later. Lengthy litigation is no fun for anyone.
But I do like long songs, and if you pay close attention, you can appreciate the careful and elaborate construction of a track. Put on your headphones if you want to catch every subtle sound.
There’s no reason our maps are oriented the way they are, with Australia at the bottom and Canada near the top. There’s no right side up in space, and we could just as easily think of the world with Australia on top, in the middle.
Same with our way of deciding Who Is My Employee? The process for determining whether someone is an employee or an independent contractor doesn’t have to be the way Americans conduct that analysis.
Two High Court decisions this month in Australia highlight a key difference between the American approach and what is now the new Australian approach.
In the U.S., courts look past the written contract and analyze a worker’s status based on the actual facts of the relationship.
The Australian High Court says the U.S. approach is upside down.
In two highly publicized decisions, the Australian court ruled that the contract establishes the rules of the relationship and therefore also determines the worker’s status. In one case, the agreement said the work would be controlled by the hiring party. By contractually reserving the right to control the work, the hiring party inadvertently made the worker an employee. The court still looked past the fact that the parties called the worker an independent contractor, but the court said the contractual requirements of the relationship — the terms and conditions — controlled the outcome.
The other High Court case involved two truck drivers. Their contracts exhaustively set forth terms preserving their flexibility to work for others and to control how their work was performed. Their contracts also called for the drivers to use their own equipment, which involved a significant investment by the drivers. The court overruled a lower court decision that deemed the workers to be employees. The lower court focused on actual control exerted by the hiring party. But the High Court said the contract controls and, in this case, the contract established requirements consistent with independent contractor status. It is up to the parties to follow the contract, but the contract establishes the independent contractor relationship.
There are lessons for American companies here too.
While under U.S. law, the actual facts of the relationship control whether the worker is an employee, the independent contractor agreement is an opportunity to memorialize the helpful facts. That’s why off-the-shelf templates in the U.S. are of no value. (Hot tip: Google & Bing is not a law firm.) See related posts here and here, including how to discomfit a bear.
An independent contractor agreement in the U.S. should be drafted with the particular facts of the relationship in mind. Does the worker get to decide when and where the work is done? If so, put that in the contract. The worker controls when and where the work is performed, and the hiring party has no right to control when and where.
If the worker’s status is challenged, you want the contract to be a helpful piece of evidence. You want to be able to say to a court: Not only does the worker get to decide when and where the work is done (or insert other factor), but the contract forbids us from controlling that.
In the U.S., contract terms like that will be persuasive evidence, but only if the actual facts align. In Australia, the contract sets the rules, and the parties are in breach if they fail to follow the rules established in the contract.
But no matter where you sit, and no matter which way your map is aligned, companies should view independent contractor agreements as an opportunity to build the case that an independent contractor is properly classified.
By planning ahead and drafting carefully, you can maximize your chances of coming out on top.
Raise your hand if you remember the 1982 song “Twilight Zone”? Seeing several hands raised, I will continue. The tune is catchy, but the lyrics are hard to understand. I heard the song this weekend and decided to finally check the lyrics. “There’s a storm on the loose, zarmines in my head” couldn’t be right, could it?
Raise your hand if you knew the chorus was this:
Help I’m steppin’ into the twilight zone The place is a madhouse, Feels like being cloned My beacon’s been moved under moon and star Where am I to go, now that I’ve gone too far?
Seeing no hands raised, I will continue.
It’s all very confusing to me, but it made sense once I read through it more carefully.
I had the same reaction after seeing an amicus brief that the AFL-CIO recently filed with the NLRB. The brief was filed in a case that may — yet again — change the test for independent contractor status.
In Atlanta Opera, the Regional Director for Region 10 ruled that a proposed unit of makeup artists and hairstylists were employees, not independent contractors, and that an election could proceed.
The NLRB then issued a notice asking the parties and the public for briefs addressing whether the Board should reconsider the test for determining whether workers are independent contractors or employees. It seems inevitable that the Board will rewrite the test to make it harder for a worker to be deemed a contractor. But is Atlanta Opera the right case to use for rewriting the test?
The AFL-CIO, somewhat surprisingly, said no. Like the lyrics to “Twilight Zone,” that was confusing to me at first, but it makes sense when I read through it more carefully.
Undoubtedly the unions want a rewrite of the test to make it as hard as possible for someone to maintain contractor status. But the AFL-CIO urged the NLRB to wait, arguing this isn’t the right set of facts to make a sweeping change.
The AFL-CIO’s brief argued that, even under the existing test, it was pretty clear the makeup artists and stylists were employees. It would be more impactful to wait for a closer case to rewrite the test. Ah, so that’s their angle — wait til later then really shake things up.
Eventually, the NLRB is going to change the test. The current test, explained in SuperShuttle DFW (discussed here), examines ten Right to Control factors.
At a minimum, it seems clear that the Board would like to go back to the FedEx Home Delivery test. The FedEx test asked whether the worker was “in fact, rendering services as part of an independent business” and essentially adopted an Economic Realities Test, rather than the Right to Control Test that had always been applied.
When the Board revises the test, it could go back to FedEx or it could try to adopt a new, more stringent test, like an ABC Test. (The courts probably would not allow the Board to adopt an ABC Test without Congressional action, but that’s for another day.)
And the Board will revise the test. It’s just a question of when and to what. The Board will make it harder to be an independent contractor under federal labor law. That means it will become easier for unions to file election petitions and try to organize groups of workers that might now be operating as independent contractors.
Yeah there’s a storm on the loose, sirens in my head.