After Robert R Died, the State Agency Kept Sending Him Assessments. Then I Did This…

Graveyard independent contrractor misclassificationThis is a true story — and it was the most fun I ever had as a lawyer.

I was representing the administrator of an estate. The deceased, Robert R, had required round-the-clock care before his demise, and his family retained several home heath care nurses. The family treated them as independent contractors. When one nurse was no longer needed, she filed for unemployment.

The state agency decided she was an employee, not a contractor. The agency sent a bill to the family for not paying into the state unemployment fund. The assessments covered all of Robert R’s nurses, not just the one who filed for unemployment. The agency also assumed that Robert R continued to retain nurses, and it issued new assessments each quarter.

But then Robert R died. At that point, he no longer needed nurses.

That’s where I come in. Shortly after Robert R’s death, I wrote a polite letter to the agency, informing it that Robert R had passed. I attached the death certificate and told the agency there were no more nurses, so please do not send any new assessments.

But the next quarter, the state agency sent a new quarterly assessment.

I sent another letter. I attached a second copy of the death certificate and again informed the agency that Robert R had died and no longer had any nurses, so please stop sending new assessments.

The next quarter, the state agency sent another new quarterly assessment.

Exasperated, I then sent this.

THL letter - why we are not paying these assessments

The agency stopped sending assessments, and I never heard from them again.

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

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Village People’s Construction Worker Character Wins! Court Expands OSHA Liability for General Contractors

Village People from Wikipedia 1978

The Village People (1978), from Wikipedia

According to the Official Website of the Village People, the group’s original lineup included Disco King, Construction Worker, Cowboy, Leatherman, Indian, and two “Nondescripts.” They were later joined by Cop, G.I., and Biker. Keeping with the times, as we know the Village People do, the costume formerly known as Indian has been rebranded as Native American. (True!)

But Cop or No Cop, Biker or No Biker, there has always been a Construction Worker since the band’s founding in 1977.

A recent court case involving construction workers tests whether a general contractor in control of a worksite (we’ll call him “Macho Man,” after the 1978 hit) has a legal duty to protect another contractor’s employee (we’ll call him “Hot Cop,” after a different 1978 V.P. tune), when none of Macho Man’s own employees are at risk.

The issue arose during a library construction project in Austin, Texas. One subcontractor refused to allow its employees to work near a 12-foot high wall of dirt that had not been properly sloped or reinforced. A citation was issued to the general contractor for allowing the unsafe condition, but it was undisputed that none of the general contractors’ own employees were endangered by the wall of dirt.

“Why does that matter?” you might be asking.

Although the condition was a violation of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA), the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals had taken the position since 1981 (when the V.P. released the album, Renaissance) that “OSHA regulations protect only an employer’s own employees.”

The Court’s ruling earlier this week abandoned that rule, instead finding that a general contractor could be cited under OSHA for allowing an unsafe condition that affected only the employees of another contractor.

In response to the Court’s ruling, the Village People have reportedly abandoned plans to introduce a nebishy Health Inspector character on their next tour.

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

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NLRB Proposes New Definition of Joint Employer; 60-Day Comment Period Starts Now

NLRB logoWhen seeking musical inspiration for a post on the NLRB’s joint employment standard, look no further than the Barenaked Ladies’ 1994 album, Maybe You Should Drive. Like an on-again, off-again relationship, the Board keeps changing its joint employment standard. Between 2015 and today, the test has been, at various times:

  • Direct control (pre-Browning-Ferris, 1984-2015),
  • Indirect control (Browning-Ferris, 2015-Dec. 2017),
  • Direct control (Hy-Brand overrules Browning-Ferris, Dec. 2017-Feb. 2018), and
  • Indirect control (Board vacates Hy-Brand, restoring Browning-Ferris, Feb 2018-present).

But with this newest change coming in the form of a proposed regulation, the proposed change can be expected, once it’s enacted, to remain in effect long term.

Cue the Barenaked Ladies, in “Everything Old Is New Again” (1994):

Everything old is new again, everything under the sun.

Now that I’m back with you again,

We hug and we kiss, we sit and make lists,

We drink and I bandage your wrists.

The proposed new standard would make it much more difficult to establish that a business is a joint employer.

The new test will help franchisors, who need to protect their brand and marks, but do not exercise day-to-day control over hiring and scheduling of a franchise owner’s employees. The new test will help businesses that subcontract labor and that want to ensure certain tasks are performed but do not exercise day-to-day control over how the work is performed or over how subcontractor hires, schedules, and supervises its employees.

In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking released late last week, the NLRB proposes a new regulation to interpret the National Labor Relations Act. New 29 CFR §103.40,which would define joint employer.

Under the proposed regulation, an employer may be considered a joint employer of a separate employer’s employees only if the two employers share or codetermine the employees’ essential terms and conditions of employment, such as hiring, firing, discipline, supervision, and direction. A putative joint employer must possess and actually exercise substantial direct and immediate control over the employees’ essential terms and conditions of employment in a manner that is not limited and routine.

There’s a lot packed into that definition:

  • The proposed joint employer must share or codetermine the workers’ terms and conditions of  employment;
  • These terms have to be essential terms of employment, such as hiring, firing, discipline, supervision, and direction;
  • It is not enough to have the right to control these terms; the proposed joint employer must actually exercise this control;
  • The control must be direct, substantial, and immediate; and
  • It is not sufficient to exert control that is limited and routine.

“Limited and routine” control means directing another business’s employees as to what work to perform, or where and when to perform it. Under the new rule, that will not be enough to show joint employment. Control that is not “limited and routine” would include providing direction on how to do the work — in other words, supervision.

For those of you asking, “So what? Who cares?” (my parents, for example), here’s why the change matters.

Under the new rule, a business that retains another company to perform work but has no control over that company’s hiring, compensation, scheduling, or supervision:

  • Will no longer be obligated to collectively bargain with that other company’s unionized workers;
  • Will no longer be held jointly liable for that other company’s unfair labor practices; and
  • Will no longer be drawn into collective bargaining or unfair labor practice disputes with that other company’s employees.

It’s a big deal. Unions won’t like it since the new rule will reduce their influence, but the new rule is a common sense, pro-business proposal that will add predictability and certainty to economic and legal relationships.

So what’s next?

There is a now a 60-day period for comment. The Board will then have the opportunity to consider the comments and revise or reject the proposed rule.  The soonest the rule can be implemented is late 2018 but more likely early 2019.

Then, assuming the rule is implemented, we go back to the standard that existed before Browning-Ferris, but with a lot more clarity and permanence. Everything old is new again. But this time, the change should be long-term since it will be memorialized in a  federal regulation.

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

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Misled: Gov’t Study Claims Contingent Workforce is Shrinking. False.

Contingent workforce study resultsDespite what you might think from having attended myriad weddings, bar mitzvahs, or other parties, Kool & the Gang has songs other than “Celebration.” (I had to look this up to verify.) One such song is called “Misled.” It includes lyrics like, “She’s as heavy as a Chevy” and “So enticing, he’s sure to take a bite.”

The video hilariously begins with our hero washing his face in the sink – a surefire way, if there ever was one, to heighten suspense and draw the audience in.

Also to draw you in, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) headlined its just-released study on the contingent workforce by concluding that the number of contingent workers is declining compared to 2005. Whah?

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Office Space (1999): Lessons for Avoiding Independent Contractor Misclassification

Office Space poster - independent contractor or employeeIf you haven’t seen Office Space in a few years, it’s time to refresh. The workers in the movie are all employees, but what if they weren’t?

Here are five signs that the Initech cubicle dwellers and others in the movie wouldn’t pass as independent contractors.

If you’ve never watched the movie, then this post might not be for you. There are no spoilers here, so feel free to read on anyway if you like. Then go watch.

Milton’s stapler. He really loves that red Swingline. Use of the company’s equipment is a sign you’re an employee, not an independent contractor.

Joanna’s flair. When the boss says you’ve got to wear at least 15 pieces of flair, that’s the sort of control indicative of an employment relationship.

Lumbergh’s 17 answering machine messages.  He’s trying very hard to direct Peter’s work. Direction and supervision are signs of control.

Peter’s frustrations, as told to the Bobs. Peter has to answer to seven layers of management? That’s seven layers too much supervision for an independent contractor. Contractors should be in business for themselves.

Storage Unit 2.  When Milton is directed to address the cockroach problem in Storage Unit 2, he knows that’s not in his job description. If management can assign additional duties, the worker is likely an employee, not a contractor.

Ah-yeah!

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

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NLRB Smells Something Rotten, Seeks Input on Major Misclassification Decision

CA5ED89A-9590-4B8C-B8C6-88EEEED7168A

Screenshot from metro.co.uk

A flight from Dubai to Amsterdam made an emergency landing last week after a fight broke out over a passenger’s excessive flatulence. The two Dutchmen sitting next to the flatulator asked him to cut it out, but he wouldn’t (or couldn’t) stop spreading his perfumery around the cabin. A fist fight broke out and the pilot diverted the flying stinkship to Vienna, where several passengers were removed. Read more here.

Something smells rotten to the NLRB as well, four months after an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) ruled that independent contractor misclassification, by itself, can be an unfair Continue reading

Python vs. Boa: Does the GrubHub Misclassification Ruling Really Matter? (Don’t Believe the Hype!)

Python vs boa - independentr contractor misclassification and grubhubPythons and boa constrictors usually do not fight each other. At least that’s what I learned in herpetology school. The reason they don’t fight each other is that there’s too much risk. The boa risks getting bitten by the python’s lethal fangs. The python risks being constricted to death because that’s how constrictors work.

For roughly the same reason, independent contractor vs. employee disputes rarely go to trial. There’s too much to lose. A company that relies on independent contractors for its business model cannot afford a ruling that all of its contractors are really employees. That’s why these cases almost always settle.

The GrubHub case, however, Continue reading