Pythons 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.
California businesses already have to cope with the threat of earthquakes, wildfires, Sharknados, and the craziest employment laws in all the land. The California Supreme Court may be about to make things even harder for businesses that use independent contractors.
For years, disputes over whether someone is an independent contractor or employee under California wage and hour law have been analyzed under the test used in S.G. Borello & Sons, which is a hybrid test combining elements of the Right to Control Test with elements of the Economic Realities Test. It is a multi-factor balancing test.
Remember the children’s game called Red Light, Green Light? One ambitious youngster is selected as the traffic cop, who randomly shouts “red light” or “green light,” requiring all the children to run and stop and start in short bursts that would cause an adult human to tear an ACL.
That’s essentially what’s happening in the big Uber misclassification case that has been pending in California since 2014. The case is called O’Connor v. Uber Technologies and is being overseen by traffic cop / federal judge Edward Chen in San Francisco. If anyone ever gets to the finish line, it will eventually be determined whether Uber drivers are properly classified as independent contractors, rather than employees.
In 1984, the Cars released a sad-sounding song called Drive. I assume it was about a guy longing for a girl, but it’s too depressing to listen to the whole thing. Throughout the song, Ric Ocasek asks “Who’s gonna drive you home tonight?” (Why the long face, Ric? Kidding.)
If you use a ride hailing service, chances are it’s an independent contractor driver who’s gonna drive you home. But in several high profile lawsuits, drivers have challenged their independent contractor status. While these suits have been in the news for years, there have been a recent flurry of high dollar settlements. Earlier this year, Lyft agreed to pay $27 million to a class of 95,000 drivers in California and Door Dash agreed to pay $5 million. Just last week, Postmates agreed to pay $8.75 million.
Should ride-hailing services (like Uber and Lyft) be required to offer a tip option if you pay by credit card? A proposed California law says yes.
A.B. 1099, passed by the California Assembly and headed to the State Senate, would require modification of these mobile apps to support credit card tipping. The bill, in its current form, takes no position as to whether these drivers are independent contractors or employees, instead calling them “workers,” but the proposed law is another attempt to legislate controls on the gig economy, rather than letting free market forces play out.
Gov. Jerry Brown has not taken a posiiton on the bill, and it may or may not survive in the California Senate.
The California Supreme Court may be about to rewrite the test for Who Is My Employee? under California wage and hour law.
Independent contractor relationships that have stood the test of time may be in jeopardy. And I don’t mean the (mildly?) entertaining Alex Trebek kind of Jeopardy. We’re talking real economic upheaval and uncertainty — worse than Schwarzenegger taking over Celebrity Apprentice.