Say Say Say: How Not to Bungle an Independent Contractor Relationship

Remember the 1983 song, Say Say Say, by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson? “Say, say, say what you want. But don’t play games with my affection.”

The songs asks for some straight talk. Be direct. Say what you mean. Or as Michael says, “What can I do girl, to get through to you. Cause I love you, baby (baby).”

1983 was a memorable year for me for music. I had a cassette called CHART ACTION 1983 that was one of my favorites. It included songs from Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Adam Ant, the Stray Cats, Bonnie Tyler, and Golden Earring.

But it didn’t have Say, Say, Say, and that was fine by me because I don’t really like the song. If it was on CHART ACTION 1983, I’d have skipped it, but the old fashioned way: forward, forward more, a little more, oops too far, rewind, rewind, forward, got it. Hungry Like the Wolf.

“Say say say what you want” would have been good advice for a Pennsylvania agency that offered interpreter and transcription services. The agency tried to run its business with an independent contractor model, but failed to say say say the right things in its agreements.

A Pennsylvania court ruled that the agency had misclassified its interpreters as independent contractors. Under PA unemployment law, the interpreters were actually employees. (“You know I’m crying oo oo oo oo oo.”)

Let’s look at where the agency went wrong.

Bad facts, tending to support employee status: The interpreters had a set of policies and procedures they had to follow, including wearing name badges. The agency did the scheduling.

Good facts, tending to support contractor status: The interpreters are not supervised, reimbursed for their expenses, or provided benefits, training, equipment, or name badges. An interpreter could refuse work at any time.

Totally unnecessary bad fact: The interpreters had to sign a non-compete agreement. That’s evidence of employment because it restricts the interpreter’s ability to work for others as an entrepreneur would do. But it turns out that, in reality, the agency didn’t care if the interpreters worked for others, and many of the interpreters did work for others.

Even worse, the non-compete included language referencing an “existing contract of employment.” Oops. Poor choice of words when you’re trying to prove there was no employment relationship. I would bet that the agency just pulled this non-compete language off the internet, without having considered the legal implications. The court focused a lot of attention on the non-compete when ruling that the interpreters were really employees.

The non-compete was a self-inflicted wound. That misstep is a good example of why you can’t just pick template agreements off the internet and expect that they’ll be sufficient.

More bad facts were on the website: Another problem for the agency was its website, which described the extensive training provided to interpreters, referred to them as “new hires,” and indicated they were all required to undergo a final performance evaluation. These facts all suggest an employment relationship.

Pennsylvania unemployment law applies a two-part test for determining whether someone is an employee or an independent contractor. To be an independent contractor, the service had to prove that it did not exercise control (a Right to Control Test) and that the interpreters were “customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, profession or business.”

This could have been done correctly. Because of the independent nature of an interpreter’s work, the agency probably could have set up legitimate independent contractor relationships. This case is a classic example of how a proactive legal review could have saved the day.

If the agency had asked a lawyer for help in setting up the business the right way, this case could have gone the other way. The agency could have eliminated the non-compete agreement (which it didn’t enforce anyway), modified the website to eliminate “new hire” language and to de-emphasize training, cut back on the specific training provided, and changed the name tag requirement to a more generic requirement to provide identification.

So to the song I say say say: You may have hit #1 in the U.S. that October, but I’m not the one who really loves you.

© 2020 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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Election News: California Voters Adopt Prop 22; Kentucky Voters Elect Dog as Mayor

Zippy evaluates the candidates.

Some elections are more consequential than others. It can be tough to lose, but in Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, the candidates for mayor are probably indifferent to the outcome. Even the winner probably doesn’t do a lot of mayoring.

That’s because the mayor of Rabbit Hash is a dog. Since 1988, the mayor has always been a dog. This year’s winner is a six-month old French bulldog named Wilbur Beast. Wilbur succeeds incumbent Brynneth Pawltro, a pit bull who has served since 2016.

Click here for an adorable photo of the winner.

In other election news (in case you were wondering whether there was anything else happening in the category of elections), voters in California passed Proposition 22. Prop 22 will allow ride share and delivery drivers in California to maintain independent contractor status, so long as the app companies provide a suite of predetermined benefits. Read more here.

That means the ABC Test in AB 5 will no longer apply to ride share or delivery drivers in California. The new exemption does not apply to other industries.

Look for intense lobbying from other industries to obtain similar treatment. Hopefully Prop 22 serves as model legislation and will adopted elsewhere throughout the country.

There was intense lobbying in the Rabbit Hash race too. Wilbur Beast’s owner, Amy Noland, told CNN that the dog had done a lot of campaigning and had hosted a lot of events.

According to the Rabbit Hash Historical Society, “The people of Rabbit Hash generally elect mayors based on the candidates’ willingness to have their belly scratched.” Based on my informal survey of other recent political races, this appears to be a anomaly.

© 2020 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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Time: More than Just a Pink Floyd Song (and Here’s What Happened This Week with Independent Contractor Cases)

The day after turning our clocks ahead, we find it’s easier to get up early to not commute to work, to not drop the kids off at school, and to not be late for any meeting you’d ordinarily attend in person since there are none. Welcome to pandemic-style Standard Time.

A bit of Daylight Savings Time trivia for you: In January 1974, the whole country went on DST for what was supposed to be 16 straight months in response to the energy crisis. But the people resisted, complaining about school kids waiting for buses in the dark, and Congress repealed the Emergency Daylight Saving Time Act in October 1974.

Today, Arizona and Hawaii are the only states that do not observe Daylight Savings Time, although in a sense they do observe it but just choose not to participate, sort of like how most of us observed school dances in junior high from inside the gym but far from the dance floor.

Today’s post takes a look back in time, but only a very brief look back because I’m going to recap events from last week. It was a busy week in the courts for independent contractor misclassification issues.

  • The Texas Supreme Court heard arguments in a case invoking an independent contractor trash collector whose leg was amputated after a garbage truck ran it over. The garbageperson (sanitation worker?) had been retained through a staffing agency as a 1099 IC, and the issue was whether worker’s compensation coverage was available.
  • A pair of drivers in California lost their motion seeking a temporary restraining order against Uber, seeking to prevent the company from texting drivers to ask them to support Prop 22. (Read more on Prop 22 in last week’s post).
  • A group of cable installers in Illinois won approval to proceed as a class in a case alleging they were misclassified as independent contractors. The plaintiffs claim they were really employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act and are owed overtime pay.
  • A Missouri appeals court ruled that a company’s pet sitters were employees under Missouri unemployment law, not independent contractors. The court applied a Right to Control Test.

In 1908, the town of Thunder Bay, Ontario (then known as Port Arthur) was the first place to adopt Daylight Savings Time. Regina, Saskatchewan followed in 1914; and Winnipeg and Brandon, Manitoba adopted DST in 1916. Germany and Austria jumped on the DST bandwagon in 1916, turning the clocks ahead to minimize the use of artificial lighting. The UK and France followed shortly afterward, although I am sure if you asked, they would say they got the idea from Canada, not the Germans.

I find it confusing that we shorten Daylight Savings Time to DST, but we use EST, CST, MST, and PST to refer to Standard Time—in other words, the times when we’re not using DST.

So confusion reigns with the clocks, just as it does with independent contractor misclassification issues. I hope you enjoyed your extra hour of sleep on Sunday.

© 2020 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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Signs of Trouble: California Ruling Raises Stakes for Ride Share

Please, no.

When governments try to help people, they don’t always get it right. The British Conservative party just wants to help. Or does it? This would be a rather sinister way to get rid of the homeless problem, don’t you think?

Same problem with the battle over whether ride share drivers are employees or independent contactors. Good intentions have unintended consequences. The California Attorney General claims to be helping drivers with his lawsuit against the ride share companies. But the state’s effort fails to recognize the massive unintended consequences.

In August, a California court issued a preliminary injunction requiring the major ride share companies to reclassify all California drivers as employees. The ruling was based on the California law (AB 5) and its ABC Test, which presumes that anyone performing services is an employee, unless three strict factors are met.

The August ruling was temporarily placed on hold while an appeals court reviewed it.

But on Thursday, the appeals court reviewed it and agreed that the ruling was proper. The stakes have been raised, and the future of ride share in California may now hinge on what happens with Prop 22, which is on the ballot right now in California.

Despite what the judges and the California Attorney General may think, ride share companies can’t just flip a switch and make all drivers employees. The logistics and expenses associated with making that change call into question whether the effort would even be worth it. When the initial court decision requiring reclassification came out in August, there were rumblings that ride share in California might shut down entirely, at least temporarily, while the companies re-evaluate and decide whether to re-tool.

The one saving grace would be Proposition 22.

As explained here, a Yes vote on Prop 22 would allow ride share companies to continue to classify drivers as independent contractors so long as they provide a suite of benefits and guarantees described in the proposed law. These would include:

  • Earnings Minimum. The measure would require app-based companies to pay at least 120 percent of the minimum wage for each hour a driver spends driving—but not time spent waiting for requests.
  • Health Insurance Stipend. The measure would require rideshare and delivery companies to provide a health insurance stipend of about $400 per month to drivers who regularly work more than 25 hours per week (not including waiting time). Drivers who average 15 driving hours per week but less than 25 driving hours would receive half as much.
  • Medical Expenses and Disability Insurance. The measure would require that companies buy insurance to cover driver medical expenses and provide disability pay when a driver is injured while driving.
  • Rest Policy. The measure would prohibit drivers from working more than 12 hours in a 24 hour period for a single rideshare or delivery company.
  • Other. The measure would require that rideshare and delivery companies have sexual harassment prevention policies and conduct criminal background checks and safety training for all drivers. It also would prohibit discrimination in hiring and firing.

The measure would also prevent cities and counties from passing further restrictions on driver classification.

The core problem with the Independent Contractor vs. Employee question is that, under U.S. law, the choice is binary. You’re one or the other. And even if ride share companies wanted to provide more benefits for drivers (and they have said they do), they are constrained by the current laws. The more companies do for the drivers, the more likely it is that the law will view those well-intentioned efforts as evidence that the drivers are really employees. This dilemma fits squarely within the box of “no good deed goes unpunished.”

Prop 22 offers a middle ground. Drivers would get more protection and benefits, and ride share companies would be protected from claims that providing those protections and benefits converts the drivers to employees. This type of law should serve as a model for how to deal with the Independent Contractor vs. Employee question–not just in California but nationwide. The choice should not be binary.

Thursday’s decision by the appeals court raises the stakes, and voters in California will decide the outcome in less than two weeks.

The homeless population in Britain thankfully has more time.

© 2020 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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California’s AB 5 Has Been Repealed, Sort Of.

Rain rain go away, come again another day.

When Zeus sends his thunderbolts into Cleveland, Zippy gets scared. The snow, wind, and rain don’t bother her, but the thunder and lightning cause her to shake. Usually she hides in the shower.

Seeking shelter from the storm (apologies to Robert Zimmerman) is what California businesses are doing too. Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5), codifying the ABC Test for determining who is an employee, has been in effect since January 1, 2020.

On Friday, a new law repealed and replaced it. This new law, AB 2257, passed both chambers in the California legislature unanimously and was signed into law September 4 by Gov. Newsom. It contains an urgency clause, which means it takes immediate effect. So AB 5 is gone.

Great news for businesses, right? Not exactly.

AB 2257 moves the ABC test to a different part of the California Labor Code– new Sections 2775 through 2787–and cleans up some of the confusing and poorly considered language in AB 5. It does not, however, provide relief from the ABC Test for most large businesses.

The revisions make it easier for entertainers, freelance writers and photographers, and digital content aggregators to maintain independent contractor status. It scraps the arbitrary 35-article limit for freelance writers to maintain independent contractor status. It allows entertainers to perform single event gigs without becoming employees. It cleans up some other language too, but it does not make substantial changes that would excuse large businesses from the ABC test.

For example, subsection 2750.3(f) of AB 5 addressed whether an exception applies for work requiring a license from the Contractors State License Board (CSLB). The exception, with its multi-part test, is unchanged. It just moves to a new section of the Labor Code, new Section 2781.

One small glimmer of hope comes from some clarifying language for the business-to-business exception. That exception still does not apply for work that requires a CSLB license. To fall within that exception (meaning that the ABC Test would not apply), one of the requirements is that the work must be performed for the benefit of the contracting business, not its customers. Under the revised law, that requirement goes away if “the business service provider’s employees are solely performing the services under the contract under the name of the business service provider and the business service provider regularly contracts with other businesses.” For grammarians who despise double negatives, this is an exception to the exception. You’re welcome. What it means is if your subcontractor has its own employees, operates as its own business, and performs work not requiring a CSLB license, it may be easier to meet the business-to-business exception, thereby avoiding the ABC test.

So where does that leave us? On one hand, the fact that the bill passed both chambers unanimously shows a recognition that AB 5 had some serious flaws. But on the other hand, the fixes that both chambers thought were appropriate are of minimal help to large businesses. It’s like unleashing a horrible lab-created supermonster, then deciding that its eyelashes should be less curly. The largely-superficial changes in AB 2257 are mainly designed to help maintain independent contractor status for individuals who truly run their own businesses, particularly in the entertainment, journalism, and digital content fields.

This new law obliterates AB 5 in name, but not in function.

Like the blanket I gave Zippy, this move by the California legislature is not likely to provide any shelter from the storm. The ABC Test in California remains alive and well. Whether you grab a blanket or hide in the shower, the ABC Test is here to stay.

© 2020 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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Cut Off This, But Not That! Here’s Today’s Independent Contractor Tip

In 1877, the Police News reported the story of a dancer’s amputated leg sold at auction. But the story might not be as it seems, says Dr. Bob Nicholson, who studies news clippings from the Victorian era and is a fun follow on twitter.

Cutting off legs might not be a good way to raise money, but cutting independent contractors off from certain privileges may save your busienss money.

Whenever possible, cut off contractors from doing things that link them to your business. They should appear to the public as independent businesses, which hopefully they are.

To prevent contractors from portraying themselves in a way that may make them seem like employees, consider adding a clause like this one to your independent contractor agreements:

Contractor shall not use the Company’s name or logo in any of Contractor’s marketing or publicity materials, on clothing or other attire, on business cards, on a website, on social media, or in any other manner, unless the Company has granted permission in advance, in writing.

Sometimes you need your contractors to display your company logo, such as if they are being sent to customers’ homes for an installation. In those circumstances, consider adding “INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR” in prominent language on any clothing that includes your company’s logo or name.

Proactive steps like this can help bolster your defense against misclassification claims. For balancing tests like the Right to Control Test and the Economic Realities Test, every good fact helps, and every bad fact hurts. Put as many brick on the good facts side of the scale as you can.

And if things don’t work out, you can always use this neat trick with your parasol to keep away bears.

Thanks again, Dr. Bob!

 

© 2020 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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Never Surrender: Appeals Court Grants Reprieve for Ride Share App Companies; Focus Turns to Prop 22.

Album cover: Boy in the Box.
Label: Aquarius in Canada, EMI America in the U.S.
Sleeves: Definitely rolled up if you could see them.

Thank you to Canadian singer Corey Hart for providing the theme to this week’s post. The Number 3 song this week in 1985 opens with, “Just a little more time is all we’re asking for.” The song, of course, is Never Surrender.

Last week we wrote about the preliminary injunction granted by a California Superior Court, preventing ride share app companies statewide from continuing to classify drivers as independent contractors. We called that ruling “Act I” because the matter was headed to appeal.

As expected, the matter was immediately appealed. Now it’s time to queue up Canada’s Juno Award winner for 1985 “Single of the Year“:

Just a little more time is all we’re asking for.

‘Cause just a little more time could open closing doors.

In a more musical world, those would have been the opening lines to the Motion for Stay in the Court of Appeals. Regardless, the motion was granted, and the ride share app companies are not going to reclassify anyone quite yet.

If the stay was not granted, the ride share app companies had threatened to shut down in California.

Oral arguments are scheduled for mid-October, which means a decision is months away. As we expected in last week’s post, the real action is on Proposition 22, on the ballot this November.

If Proposition 22 passes, the new ABC Test in Assembly Bill 5 (which went into effect Jan. 1, 2020) would not apply to workers in the app-based rideshare and delivery business. Instead, those workers could stay classified as independent contractors, but the app-based companies must ensure that the drivers receive a predetermined level of compensation and benefits, including:

  • Earnings Minimum. The measure would require app-based companies to pay at least 120 percent of the minimum wage for each hour a driver spends driving—but not time spent waiting for requests.
  • Health Insurance Stipend. The measure would require rideshare and delivery companies to provide a health insurance stipend of about $400 per month to drivers who regularly work more than 25 hours per week (not including waiting time). Drivers who average 15 driving hours per week but less than 25 driving hours would receive half as much.
  • Medical Expenses and Disability Insurance. The measure would require that companies buy insurance to cover driver medical expenses and provide disability pay when a driver is injured while driving.
  • Rest Policy. The measure would prohibit drivers from working more than 12 hours in a 24 hour period for a single rideshare or delivery company.
  • Other. The measure would require that rideshare and delivery companies have sexual harassment prevention policies and conduct criminal background checks and safety training for all drivers. It also would prohibit discrimination in hiring and firing.

The measure would also prevent cities and counties from passing further restrictions on driver classification.

Here’s the webpage for Yes on 22. Keep a close eye on the results of the vote because it will probably determine the future of ride share in California.

And don’t forget to wear your sunglasses at night.

© 2020 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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Something Is Rotten in the State of California? Ride Share Misclassification Ruling Is Merely Act I

CA flag pole

“To be or not to be” are the opening words of a soliloquy by Prince Hamlet. With that, I have exhausted what I remember about Shakespearean plays without consulting Wikipedia. Having consulted Wikipedia, I can confirm that this soliloquy occurs in Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1.

A lot happens in Act III and beyond, and if you stopped reading Hamlet after Act I, you’d miss most of the action, including assorted plotting, scheming and mayhem.

Last week in California, a different kind of mayhem began in a major case involving alleged independent contractor misclassification. In California v. Uber, a state superior court judge granted a preliminary injunction, requiring ride-sharing app companies to reclassify California drivers as employees. But this order might not be the poisoned blade it seems to be. Either the ruling is a substantial blow, or it’s much ado about nothing. For now, it’s too early to tell. We’re still in Act I. Like in Hamlet, the real action will be in the later acts.

Read the rest of the post here, on BakerHostetler’s Employment Law Spotlight Blog.

© 2020 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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Identity Unclear? Court Adds to Confusion for Enforcing Arbitration Agreements

chickenZoanthropy is a mental disorder in which a person believes he or she is an animal. In this recent case, a 54-year old Belgian woman mistook herself for a chicken. The rare condition — and the woman’s clucking — stopped suddenly when she had a seizure, which apparently is a decidedly un-chickenlike thing to have.

Identity crises continue to plague the courts too. As we reported here, arbitration agreements can become unenforceable when applied to drivers of goods, if those drivers are in “interstate commerce.” What it means to drive in “interstate commerce” is not so clear. We reported last month on seemingly contradictory decisions by the New Jersey Supreme Court and the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

Last week, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals muddied things up more, ruling that GrubHub’s arbitration agreements with independent contractor drivers were enforceable, meaning that drivers who sued, claiming employee status, had to bring their claims individually through arbitration, not in a class action in court. The court ruled that these local food delivery drivers were not driving in “interstate commerce.” (Tip: If you’re craving fries, order from a fast food joint in your home state. )

That’s a nice win for GrubHub and for the enforcement of arbitration agreements in general.

Eventually, the Supreme Court is going to have to sort this out and tell us when drivers of goods are in “interstate commerce” and when they are not. Courts have tried to draw distinctions around whether the drivers cross state lines, whether the goods cross state lines even if the drivers do not, and whether the goods were “at rest” before being driven the last mile. We have different standards being used by different courts in different states — even though they’re all just trying to interpret the meaning of an exception in a federal law, the Federal Arbitration Act.

The end result is that companies using arbitration agreements with drivers of goods may — or may not — be able to enforce their arbitration agreements under the Federal Arbitration Act.

For now, confusion reigns. But at least our Belgian chicken lady is back to normal. OddityCentral reports that some cases of zoanthropy have lasted decades.

© 2020 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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Up North, Uber Can’t Make Drivers Go to Amsterdam to Sue. (Wait, What?)

exposI bought a Montreal Expos t-shirt last week. Why? I needed some new work clothes.

I’ve been emailing with a friend in Ontario about the difference between the U.S. and Canada when it comes to coronavirus precautions, and we both agree it’s a good idea to keep the border closed for now. Did you see the Maid of the Mist pictures showing the Canadian boat with six well-distanced (and undoubtedly polite) passengers and the American boat packed like it’s 2019. Canada has hardly any cases. Anyway, I digress. As usual.

While Canada is on my mind, I’ll share a recent decision by the Supreme Court of Canada. The ruling will allow a proposed $400 million class action against Uber to proceed in Ontario on the issue of whether drivers are misclassified as independent contractors.

At issue was the validity of Uber’s arbitration agreements for drivers in Canada. The agreement required drivers to arbitrate any disputes in Amsterdam, following the rules of the International Chamber of Commerce and Netherlands law. Wait. What? Yes.

And there’s this: Filing a case would cost a driver US $14,500 in up-front administrative fees.

The Court’s opinion called the arbitration clause “unconscionable,” and Uber responded by confirming to The Star that it planned to update its arbitration agreements accordingly.

Gig economy platforms are under attack in Ontario, much like in the U.S. Think of Ontario as Canada’s version of California or Massachusetts but with better access to poutine.

According to The Star, the Ontario labour relations board ruled earlier this year that couriers for a food delivery app were not true independent contractors and therefore had the right to join a union. Drivers using the Uber Black platform are also challenging their classification as contractors. American expats are challenging the use of a superfluous U by the labour relations board.

Lesson: If you’re going to require arbitration, be reasonable. Amsterdam might be a nice place to visit (see the Vondelpark!), but it’s too much of a stretch to require an Ontario rideshare driver to go there to file a claim. Next time, try Greenland?

© 2020 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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