Our Amazon delivery driver snapped this photo yesterday, when leaving a package at my door. There’s Zippy, waiting patiently and watching. Her dog treats arrived in a separate delivery yesterday, so this package is probably not for her.
What have you been waiting for? If not a special delivery, then maybe a change in federal labor laws? Oh, not quite as good, but very likely.
Here are three things to expect from the NLRB during the Biden Administration:
1. Joint employment, and a return to Browning-Ferris.
In 2015, the NLRB overturned 30 years of precedent to create a new test to determine when staffing agency workers are joint employees. That decision, known as Browning-Ferris, allowed for a finding of joint employment even if control was indirect, reserved, and related to nonessential terms.
The Browning-Ferris standard was later abandoned, but it will likely come back. Expect a new test that makes it easier to establish a joint employment relationship under federal labor law. You can read more about the Browning-Ferris test here.
2. Independent contractor misclassification, as an unfair labor practice.
Is independent contractor misclassification, by itself, an unfair labor practice? In 2019, the NLRB said no, it’s not necessarily a violation of the NLRA to misclassify an employee as a contractor. The Board’s rationale was that a business can express its legitimate belief that workers were contractors, even if that belief turned out to be wrong.
Expect that to change. A more union-friendly Board is likely to rule that when a business incorrectly tells workers they are contractors, the business is interfering with workers’ rights. Expect independent contractor misclassification to become an automatic violation of the NLRA.
3. Independent contractor misclassification, and a tougher test for proving contractor status.
In 2019, the Board updated the test for determining Who Is My Employee?, making it easier to prove independent contractor status under the NLRA.
From 2014 to 2018, the Board had taken the position that to be an independent contractor, you must be “in fact, rendering services as part of an independent business.” That test was abandoned in 2019, in a case called SuperShuttle DFW, when the Board said that you can be an independent contractor if you are permitted to run your own business, whether you actually do so or not. The 2019 ruling reinstated the Right to Control Test as the proper way to decide employee vs. independent contractor status.
Expect a return to the 2014 test, which would mean that to be an independent contractor, you’d need to actually operate as an independent business.
When might all this happen?
Some in 2021, some in 2022.
Biden has already removed Peter Robb as the NLRB’s General Counsel, replacing him with Peter Sung Ohr as Acting GC. The GC acts as the Board’s chief prosecutor, setting the administration’s priorities on what it considers to be a violation of the NLRA. We are already starting to see changes in Board policy, but the composition of the five-member Board will not shift to majority Democratic-control until after William Emanuel’s term expires in August 2021.
In 2021, we can expect changes in policy that are more pro-worker. In 2022, we can expect to start seeing 3-2 rulings in NLRB decisions that are more pro-worker. The Democrats will take a majority of Board seats in late 2021.
Businesses should anticipate these changes and plan accordingly. This package is going to be delivered. It’s just a matter of time.
© 2021 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.
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