Michael Jackson Says: Be Sure Your Subcontractor Agreements Require Adequate Insurance

Insuracne subcointractor agreement independent contractor clauses agreements IMG_1096The Michael Jackson song, “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” has all kinds of lyrics I can’t understand. No matter how many times I listen to that song, most of it sounds unclear to me, like nonsense syllables.

The one part of the song that is clear, though, is the title. That one phrase is repeated over and over. Leaving aside (for now) the unintelligible parts of the song, the King of Pop unwittingly provided a good lesson on insurance clauses for subcontractor agreements.

(Note to readers: I looked up the real lyrics, and they have nothing to do with subcontractor agreements or insurance clauses, but they might as well since I still can’t understand them.)

Subcontractor agreements typically include an indemnification requirement and an insurance requirement. The subcontractor is required to indemnify your business against certain types of claims and must require sufficient insurance to cover those claims.

But how much insurance is enough?

That varies, of course, depending on the scope of the engagement and the responsibilities undertaken by the subcontractor. But don’t leave the amount and types of coverage to the subcontractor’s discretion.

Types of required insurance often include general commercial liability, automobile, and workers compensation coverage. Minimum amounts, though, should be specified. It does you no good to have a contractual agreement for indemnification if the subcontractor lacks the financial backing to pay up. You may end up with a bankrupt contractor and a worthless indemnification agreement.

I often see $1 million or $2 million per occurrence for general commercial liability. Workers compensation clauses often refer to “statutory limits,” but some states, like Texas, do not have statutory coverage requirements, so the term “statutory limits” in Texas might be meaningless.

Provide some specific requirements for coverage amounts and don’t stop til you get enough.

Now about the song, did you know these are actual lyrics?

  • Keep on with the force, don’t stop.
  • I was wondering, you know, if you could keep on, because the force it’s got a lot of power.
  • I’m melting (I’m melting) like hot candle wax.

Sounds like a tribute to the Star Wars exhibit at Madame Tussaud’s.

© 2017 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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Stop the Leaks! What if White House Staffers Were Independent Contractors?

Sessions stop the leaks independent contractorsTrump and Sessions wants to prosecute the leakers. As we’ve seen before, stopping leaks can become a Presidential obsession. In Nixon’s White House, the Plumbers were tasked with stopping leaks of classified information, such as the Pentagon Papers. Through the Committee to Re-Elect the President (fittingly, CREEP), members of the Plumbers broke into the office of the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg, who had released the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times. Some of you may have heard about what happened next.

Presidential aides and White House staffers routinely have access to information that is intended to remain confidential. Businesses face the same issue. A company’s employees often have access to confidential or trade secret information that would be harmful in the hands of competitors, or that could damage the business if released to the general public.

It’s commonplace to require employees in such positions to sign Nondisclosure Agreements (NDAs).  NDAs typically define the scope of confidential information and require employees to refrain from using or disclosing any of it outside of work.

But what about independent contractors? Non-employees like specialists or consultants are often retained to work on sensitive company projects. In the course of that work, they are often granted access to confidential information.

Should independent contractors sign NDAs too? You bet! If they will be granted access to confidential or trade secret information, NDAs are important.

They can be used in a stand-alone agreement or as part of a broader independent contractor agreement containing other terms.

It is arguably even more important to have a contractor sign an NDA than it is for an employee to be required to sign one. Why?

Employees, by their nature, are agents of the company and are presumed to be acting to further the employer’s interests. NDAs are a useful reminder to employees of their obligations to the employer, and NDAs can expand — by contract — the scope of protection offered by trade secret laws.

Independent contractors, in contrast, are in business for themselves. They are generally not agents of the business, and any obligation they have to preserve confidential information will stem mainly from contractual obligations, rather than from trade secret law.

In fact, trade secret laws generally require a company to prove that it takes steps to safeguard the privacy of trade secret information — that is, steps to prevent other people from accessing it. By sharing trade secrets with a non-employee contractor, the company may — through that act alone — risk losing trade secret protection for their confidential business information.  They’ve shared it outside the company.

That is where NDAs come in. If a contractor is required to sign an NDA as a condition of the retention, then the employer can much more confidently share confidential and trade secret information with the contractor.

The NDA not only creates a contractual obligation on the contractor to preserve the secrecy of the information, but it also bolsters the company’s ability to show that it takes active steps to protect its confidential information. In other words, the NDA helps the business show that it does not tell an outsider its trade secrets without first obtaining a signed NDA.

The lesson here is simple. If your independent contractor will be granted access to confidential information — even incidentally or accidentally — NDAs can provide important protections to the business.

If the contractor leaks the information anyway, you can always find some goons to break into the office of the contractor’s psychiatrist to get some dirt on him.  (That was a joke. Don’t do that!) Legal remedies are available. Don’t break into anyone’s office. Please.

© 2017 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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Avoid These FMLA Traps with Joint Employment

nurse - FMLA leave and joint employment-359321_1920The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is already one of the hardest employment laws to comply with. Add joint employment into the mix, and the level of difficulty further increases.

Here are some pointers for handling FMLA issues when joint employment is likely to exist:

Issue 1: Is there Joint Employment?

To determine whether two companies are joint employers under the FMLA, the Economic Realities Test is used. This is the same test used under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). (See this post for a recent development that threatens to expand the definition of joint employment under the FLSA.)

The DOL has advised that in most staffing agency relationships, there is joint employment.

Issue 2: How Does Joint Employment Affect An Employee’s FMLA Eligibility?

In this post, we addressed how service time as a temp counts toward the one-year and 1250-hour requirements for an employee’s FMLA eligibility. The same holds true for current staffing agency workers, with a few additional items to remember.

One of the requirements for FMLA eligibility is the existence of 50 employees within a 75-mile radius. So you thought counting was easy? Here are two rules to remember:

  • Staffing agency workers count for both the staffing agency and the company for whom services are being provided.
  • When applying the 75-mile radius rule, the staffing agency worker’s worksite is the location from which work is assigned, unless the worker has been working at a location for more than a year, in which case the physical worksite is used.

Issue 3: Who Is Responsible for What?

The DOL has published this handy dandy Fact Sheet, which describes the FMLA obligations of “primary” and “secondary” employers. In staffing agency relationships, the staffing agency is the primary employer, and the company receiving the services is the secondary employer.

Responsibilities of the primary employer (the staffing agency):

  1. Provide FMLA Notices;
  2. Provide FMLA leave to eligible employees;
  3. Maintain group health insurance benefits during the leave;
  4. Restore the employee to the same job or an equivalent job upon return from leave;
  5. Keep all records required under FMLA for its primary employees.

The primary employer is also prohibited from interfering with a jointly-employed employee’s exercise of or attempt to exercise his or her FMLA rights, or from firing or discriminating against an employee for opposing a practice that is unlawful under the FMLA.

Responsibilities of the secondary employer:

  1. Restore an employee to the same or equivalent job upon return from FMLA leave;
  2. Keep identifying information and payroll records for any jointly-employed employees; and
  3. Comply with all the provisions of the FMLA for its regular, permanent workforce.

A secondary employer is also prohibited from interfering with a jointly-employed employee’s exercise of or attempt to exercise his or her FMLA rights, or from firing or discriminating against an employee for opposing a practice that is unlawful under the FMLA.

Are we having fun yet?

© 2017 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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Five (More) Signs Your Independent Contractor May Be Properly Classified

IMG_1079Last week I posted Five Signs Your Independent Contractor May Be Properly Classified. While I feel pretty good about the post, I also feel like there’s more where that came from. So here goes.

Five More Signs Your Independent Contractor May Be Properly Classified:

  1. The contractor has its own employees. Since contractors are in business for themselves, they should be free to hire their own employees. If they actually do, chalk up a few points.
  2. The contractor pays its own expenses. One indicator of a legitimate independent contractor relationship is that the contractor, if a sound businessperson, will earn a profit but, if a poor businessperson, will incur a loss. The profit/loss determination is often a function of how well the contractor prices its services. If you reimburse a contractor for all of its expenses, the risk of loss is generally removed. Legitimate independent contractors should be bearing some risk.
  3. The contractor works from its own office space. The flexibility to work wherever and whenever suggests proper classification as an independent contractor.
  4. The contractor works using its own tools and equipment. That’s more evidence that the contractor is running its own business and has more opportunity to incur a net loss.
  5. The contractor carries its own insurance. When a contractor carries the types of insurance typically carried by a business, the contractor is likely operating as a business. Look for General Commercial Liability and Workers Comp coverage.

Remember, the tests for determining Who Is My Employee? vary by law, and most test are balancing tests, so no single factor is likely to be determinative. Relationships with these five features, however, are more likely to have the scales tilted in favor of recognizing independent contractor status.

© 2017 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

Joint Employment Is Like Taking Steroids By Accident

athlete-joint employment - staffing agency - 1840437_1920It seems like every month another professional athlete is caught using a prohibited substance. The typical script (after getting caught) is to blame the maker of a supplement. “I should have more carefully checked the label,” or “I had no way of knowing what was in that synthetic elephant urine.”

Fair or unfair, every athlete knows that he/she is responsible for what goes into the athlete’s body, whether the juicing was intentional or not.

The same rule applies to companies who use staffing agencies.

When workers are deemed to be joint employees, both the staffing agency and the company that benefits from the services are responsible for failures to follow employment law. It doesn’t matter who made the mistake.

Under the FLSA, for example, employers must pay non-exempt employees a minimum wage, must pay for all hours worked, must pay overtime, and must properly calculate overtime rates. Sometimes this is hard. Two traps that ensnare even the most sophisticated employers are the challenge of accounting for off-the-clock work (checking email by cell phone, for example), and calculating the base hourly rate when there are bonuses and other forms of compensation provided.

Joint employment means joint liability. If the staffing agency responsible for paying employees makes an error, both companies are on the hook. That means a company can be responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages  — including back pay, attorneys’ fees, and liquidated damages — for errors it had no control over.

When the potential exists for a finding of joint employment, be careful when selecting  vendors who supply workers. Here are three tips:

  1. Be sure any vendors who supply workers are reputable, competent, professional, and reliable. (Four tips in one! you’ll thank me later)
  2. Be sure they stand behind their obligations with a suitable (and specific) indemnity clause.
  3. Be sure they are sufficiently insured.

Remember, under the FLSA (and many other laws), your company may be jointly liable for a staffing agency’s mistakes — even if you had no control over their pay practices.

Using staffing agency workers is like taking a performance supplement. It may enhance the bottom line and improve overall performance, but any funny business is your responsibility.

It doesn’t matter who put the horse steroid in your protein powder. If you ingest it, you are responsible for it.

© 2017 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

5 Signs Your Independent Contractor May Be Properly Classified

IMG_1076In March, we posted Five Signs Your Contractor May Be Misclassified (with Bob Seger lyrics!). Today we look at the other side of the same coin. While there is no sure fire, (Silver) bullet (Band) proof assurance that your contractor relationship will withstand a legal challenge, there are some facts that tend to strongly support legitimate independent contractor status.

Here are 5 signs your independent contractor may be properly classified.

  1. The contractor has an LLC or Corporation. When the IRS or DOL performs an independent contractior misclassification audit, the first thing it is likely to ask for is a list of who received 1099s in the past year. Receipt by individuals suggest possible misclassification. Companies are less of a flag.
  2. The contractor has other clients. The true hallmark of an independent contractor is that the person is in business for him/herself. Having other clients is a strong sign that the contractor is running a legitimate independent business.
  3. The contractor advertises its services in the marketplace. This may take the form of having a web page, flyers, even Facebook ads. Anything that suggests that the contractor is running a business and seeking buyers of its services is strong evidence in support of legitimate independent contractor status.
  4. Your relationship with the contractor is project-based or for a fixed term. Open-ended relationships resemble at-will employment. While a fixed-term relationship can still exist in employment, it’s better than indefinite. Best of all, though, is a project-based engagement. Retain the contractor for a particular project. When the project ends, the relationship ends. Period.
  5. The contractor is not a former employee of your company. Companies sometimes rebrand former employees as contractors. That’s generally too cute. Receipt of a W-2 and 1099 by the same person is a big fat red flag.

Remember, the tests for determining Who Is My Employee? vary by law, and most test are balancing tests, so no single factor is likely to be determinative. Relationships with these five features, however, are more likely to have the scales tilted in favor of recognizing independent contractor status.

© 2017 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

Podcast: What You Need to Know About Independent Contractor Misclassification

IMG_1073This week, I am encouraging readers to tune in to this podcast from XpertHR, in which I discuss issues and hot topics related to independent contractor misclassification.

Topics covered include:

  • The attack on business models that rely on the use of independent contractors;
  • The future of misclassification claims;
  • Possible updates to the FLSA;
  • Industries that are most at risk for independent contractor misclassification claims; and
  • Common misconceptions.

I hope you enjoy this interview, and thank you to David Weisenfeld and Xpert HR.