You can’t pay for English whales (the queen owns those), but you should pay summer interns – as employees, not contractors

Whale summer internships paid unpaid employee independent contractorSome things you can’t pay for. All of the whales and sturgeon that live in English waters, for example, belong to the queen. Under an English statute from 1324, “The king shall have wreck of the sea throughout the realm, whales and sturgeons taken in the sea or elsewhere within the realm, except in certain places privileged by the king.”

So if you wanted to buy an English whale this summer, you may be out of luck. U.S. business should be spending their money elsewhere — like on summer interns! Yes, let’s talk about summer interns. Paid or unpaid? Employee or independent contractor? Have I captured your attention? I knew it. Read on.

Paid or unpaid? The rules have been changing to make it easier to have unpaid interns, provided the internships have educational value and are not for the benefit of the business. This post provides some guidelines. The bottom line, though, is that it’s safest to pay your summer interns.

Employees or independent contractors? If you’re going to pay your summer interns, they’re probably your employees. It’s ok to have short-term, part-time employees. Even if your intern is working a sporadic schedule, a few days a week, a few hours a day, and just over the summer while school is out, your best move is to treat the person as your employee — not an independent contractor. That means you should withhold taxes, and the intern should complete an IRS Form W-4. (The high school kids will give you unforgettable blank stares when you ask them to declare their allowances on line 5. Try it, just for fun. Trust me.)

Your interns are learning the business. They aren’t in business for themselves. They probably meet none of the requirements for establishing independent contractor status — not under ABC Tests, not under Right to Control Tests, not under Economic Realities Tests. Not in a boat, not with a goat.

Summer is great for whale watching and internships. But be sure your interns are properly classified and properly paid. And make sure they know what they can and cannot do. They do not, for example, have “wreck of the sea throughout the English realm,” so update your onboarding materials accordingly.

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

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Epic Ruling Clears Path: Arbitration Agreements Can Save Millions in Independent Contractor Misclassification Claims

Arbitration agreements for independent contractorsToday in the Epic Systems case, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that in employer-employee relationships, mandatory arbitration agreements with class action waivers are lawful.

A class action waiver means that employees cannot file class actions. They must instead bring any claim individually to arbitration, one person at a time, even if there are a lot of others in the same situation.

The issue before the Supreme Court was whether the employers could require employees to sign these agreements.

  • The argument for allowing the agreements was that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) favors arbitration as a way to resolve disputes and says that most attempts to invalidate arbitration agreements are against the law. But there are narrow exceptions.
  • The argument against allowing the agreements was that the NLRA grants workers the right to engage in protected concerted activity, and filing class actions (they argue) is a type of protected concerted activity.

The court had to decide whether the NLRA’s right to engage in protected concerted activity created an exception to the FAA’s rule favoring arbitration. As expected, the conservative court held that mandatory employee arbitration agreements — including class action waivers — are lawfulIn other words, businesses may require their employees to sign away their right to bring class actions. Read that again slowly. It’s important.

What does this mean for independent contractor agreements?

The decision does not directly address independent contractor agreements, but the decision does say that the Supreme Court has rejected every other challenge to the FAA’s policy favoring arbitration.

It seems pretty safe, then, to assume that the Court would allow mandatory arbitration agreements, with class action waivers, in independent contractor agreements.

Should businesses include mandatory arbitration provisions in independent contractor agreements?

There are pros and cons to arbitration, and the answer depends largely on how reliant your business is on independent contractor relationships as part of the business model. In other words, are you at risk of a class action?

If yes you are, then yes you probably should. (But please consult counsel.)

Businesses that may be at risk of a widespread finding of independent contractor misclassification can use these agreements to prevent class actions from being filed. If contractors who claim misclassification have to bring their claims individually, there is a lot less money at stake and, strategically, the incentive for plaintiffs’ lawyers to take these cases is greatly diminished. Few lawyers will take a case that may be worth a few thousand dollars (or often less). Most lawyers would love a case that may be worth a few million dollars. The difference is in the numbers. Class action waivers can greatly reduce your company’s risk of a large misclassification verdict.

Other advantages of arbitration include:

  • The results of individual arbitrations can be kept confidential, unlike court decisions. That means a finding against you will not hit the social media feeds or trade publications;
  • The parties select the arbitrator, which means you can ensure that your fact finder is a lawyer or has a background in the industry or type of dispute involved;
  • There’s no risk of a runaway jury, populated by regular folks who might have an axe to grind and no sense of the value of money;
  • The dispute gets resolved quickly, with finality, and with no right to appeal (except in very limited circumstances)

But there are potential downsides to arbitrations too:

  • Filing fees can be expensive;
  • Arbitrators can be expensive too. They get paid by the hour, unlike a judge who is not being paid by either side (we hope);
  • The barrier for employees to bring a claim is lower. They don’t need an attorney, and they can initiate a claim with ease, which could mean that more individual claims would be filed than if employees had to go to court;
  • There is no right to appeal (except in limited circumstances). This is both an advantage and a disadvantage, depending on whether you win!

Arbitration agreements have pros and cons, but for businesses that make substantial use of independent contractors, an arbitration agreement with a class action waiver can be critically important in avoiding a large claim.

One final reminder: If you use an mandatory arbitration agreement, remember to include a class action waiver. That’s one of the main benefits of these agreements.

Please consult with your employment lawyer to decide whether arbitration agreements are right for your business.

© 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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If I Cut My Employee’s Hours, Can I Make Her an Independent Contractor?

Independent contractor part-time worker lizard

This question is best answered with an analogy to everyone’s favorite quadrupedal reptile – the lizard.

The lizard is a squamate reptile. I don’t know what squamate means, but I read it on Wikipedia. Lizards typically have four feet, external ears, and like to climb on the patio screens of retirees’ homes in Florida. Those are the defining characteristics that make them lizards.

Lizards also have tails, but they can shed those tails when in distress. I’m sure this makes the lizard sad, but sacrifices must be made.

The important point here is: Losing a tail doesn’t make a lizard any less of a lizard. (They are taught this by lizard psychotherapists.)

Now let’s get to the point. Today’s post is about what happens when businesses cut their employees’ hours. Workloads sometimes decrease to the point where employees are no longer needed for 40 hours a week. Maybe 10 hours is enough. Or maybe the work needed is sporadic — 5 hours one week, no hours the next week.

Can you convert these part-timers to independent contractors?

No, you can’t. A lizard is still a lizard after losing its tail, and an employee is still an employee after losing some hours. The lizard is not defined by the presence of its tail, and employee status is not determined by the number of hours worked.

It is ok to have an employee whose hours are minimal or occasional. Think of the high schooler who works once a week at the rec center. That’s an employee, not a contractor. The worker is an employee because of the work performed and the control the business has over how the work is done. An independent contractor, in contrast, is someone in business for herself.

What if the employee’s hours are reduced so much that she gets two other occasional jobs? That still doesn’t change the answer. If the work is classified as employment at 40 hours, it’s employment at 3 hours a week. Think of it this way: It’s employment the moment an employee shows up at the worksite. If the employee leaves the worksite after 30 minutes, the work performed for those 30 minutes was still employment.

Employment status doesn’t change based solely on the number of hours worked, and although this next fact is entirely irrelevant to the post, it is worth a quick mention since we have been discussing lizards. The Komodo Dragon is a lizard that has been known to eat mammals as large as a water buffalo (at least according to Wikipedia).

 

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

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Arbitration Agreements: Still the Hammer You Want in Your Toolbox

E39455E8-972A-4B73-BD7B-53AD1C29F259

If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning. I’d hammer in the evening. All over this laa-aaand. That’s a lot of free labor for somebody. And noise. No one should hammer too late in the evening.

The song could describe a national network of independent contractors in the construction field. It doesn’t, but it could. (This is how I think now. Sad. Very sad.)

Thank you, Peter, Paul, and/or Mary for helping me introduce the real hammer for companies that use lots of independent contractors: Arbitration Agreements with Class Action Waivers.

The legitimacy of requiring employees to sign arbitration agreements with class action waivers is under scrutiny by the NLRB and will be the subject of an important upcoming Supreme Court ruling in the Epic Systems case. Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides for employees, however, the Epic Systems decision is not likely to limit the use of arbitration agreements with class action waivers in independent contractor agreements.

A ruling this month by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals showed how useful these agreements can be for businesses. In a short decision, the Court ruled that two independent contractors wishing to bring a class action alleging independent contractor miscalssification were barred from doing so because they had signed arbitration agreements with class action waivers. If they wanted to dispute their status, they had contractually agreed to do so only in arbitration, and only through an individual (not class) claim.

These agreements work. If they are well-drafted and include provisions that help make them fair to all parties, they are enforceable in most jurisdictions and can be an effective tool for keeping your business safe from independent contractor misclassification class actions.

Businesses that rely on independent contractor labor should consider using this tool in the morning and in the evening, all over this laa-aaand.

For more information on independent contractor issues and other labor and employment developments to watch in 2018, join me in Cincinnati on March 28 for the 2018 BakerHostetler Master Class on Labor Relations and Employment Law: A Time for Change. Attendance is complimentary, but advance registration is required. Please email me if you plan to attend, tlebowitz@bakerlaw.com, and list my name in your RSVP so I can be sure to look for you.

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

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Lessons From Cambodian Dancing Arrests: Don’t Draw Extra Attention to Your Independent Contractors

Tips for avoiding independent contractor misclassification claims

Screenshot from telegraph.co.uk

Ten European tourists face up to a year in Cambodian prison after being arrested for “pornographic dancing,” according to The Telegraph. Apparently, they went to a villa barbeque party and took pictures of themselves, clothed, dancing in suggestive poses.

Readers take notice: When barbequeing in Cambodia, do not draw unneeded attention to yourself by simulating sex positions and posting the pictures on social media.

When dealing with independent contractors, it’s also a good idea not to Continue reading

Should Businesses Reclassify Workers as Contractors for 2018? (Or, Why You Shouldn’t Paint Your Dog)

Independent contractortax plan - don’t paint your dog

The Republicans just threw a bone to independent contractors with their new tax law. What does that mean for businesses? Let’s examine.

Strategy question for businesses: Now that tax law provides more favorable tax treatment to independent contractors (see more here), should business reclassify workers as contractors for 2018?

If that’s your reason, then no.

Suppose a new law required ice cream shops to give free cones to dalmation owners. This would be a stupid law, but stay with me.

If I paint dots on a yellow lab, do I get free ice cream?

No, of course not. Even I call my yellow lab a dalmation, it’s still a lab.

Continue reading