Octopus vs. Bald Eagle: Postmates to Defend 5,225 Individual Arbitration Claims

Bald eagle octopus postmates

The best laid plans can sometimes take an unexpected turn for the worse. Just ask this octupus.

Earlier this month, off the coast of Vancouver Island, an octopus was settling down for a meal consisting of one whole bald eagle, freshly caught but still alive. A team of nearby salmon fishermen heard the bald eagle’s screams and, having been trained in speaking eagle, immediately recognized the distress call. The salmon fishermen sprang into action. They poked the soft-bodied mollusc with a pole until it released the bird. The eagle survived, and the fishermen got some footage that made it onto CNN’s website.

While I love octopi (delicious when grilled), I like to think that I too would have favored the eagle when interfering with a battle sponsored by mother nature.

The delivery app company Postmates is also dealing with an unexpected turn of events, but this one involves no sea creatures or birds of prey. In defending a claim of independent contractor misclassification brought by thousands of delivery drivers, Postmates prevailed in showing that the drivers were bound by arbitration agreements with class action waivers. If the drivers wanted to proceed, they would have to arbitrate their claims one-by-one, all 5,225 of them.

Guess what happened next.

The plaintiffs’ firm representing the drivers filed 5,225 individual arbitration claims with AAA.

Faced with having to pay $10 million in arbitration filing fees, Postmates has been trying to figure out how that would work. Can AAA even handle 5,225 simultaneous arbitrations? After Postmates missed an initial AAA payment deadline, the plaintiffs’ firm filed a motion to hold Postmates in contempt for not paying the AAA fees.

Postmates is now defending the contempt motion and trying to figure out, logistically, how to proceed.

Arbitration agreements can be helpful to businesses that have lots of independent contractors, mainly because the agreements can include class action waivers. But this dispute shows the potential downside of class action waivers. A sophisticated plaintiffs’ class action firm can file thousands of simultaneous arbitration demands, flooding the system and leaving the company on the hook for millions of dollars in filing fees alone — before even getting to the merits or defense of a claim.

We’ll see how this one plays out. It’s an unexpected turn of events, much like the octopus getting poked by an eagle-defending salmon fisherman at dinner time.

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

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Is Another Strict ABC Test About to Muddy the Independent Contractor Waters?

NJ ABC Test independent contractorAccording to this article about the Garden State, New Jersey is about more than just the Sopranos and Snooki. Here are three fun facts about NJ:

1. Considered the “Diner Capital of the Country,” NJ has an estimated 525 diners. (I’m assuming from context that more than 525 New Jerseyans dine out, that “diners” here means those breakfast-themed restaurants that often look like rail cars, and that Uber Eats isn’t quite yet so dominant that the other 9 million NJ-ers eat at home every night.)

2. The first modern submarine ride was taken in NJ’s Passaic River. (I find this hard to believe but, if true, I’m sure the scenery was lovely.)

3. NJ was home to the first intercollegiate football game, Rutgers vs. Princeton. (The game is still in a scoreless tie.)

Another less fun fact about NJ is that its legislature may be about to adopt one of the strictest tests for independent contractor misclassification in the country. A recently proposed bill would model the state’s test for independent contractor vs. employee on the new California ABC Test.

New Jersey already uses a type of ABC Test for its wage and hour laws, but the bill would make Part B of the test much harder to meet — like California’s new law, Assembly Bill 5.

It’s no lock that the proposed law will pass, but if I am a betting man — and, fun fact, sports wagering is now legal in NJ — I would bet this one will become law sometime in 2020.

Until then, at least we can all enjoy the diner and submarine scene.

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

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The Biggest Overlooked Risk for Independent Contractor Misclassification Claims Is…

unemployment independent contractor misclassification

Remember the Chicago song called Baby What A Big Surprise? That’s about a good surprise. The girl he longed for was there all along. How sweet.

This post about is about another kind of surprise – one that’s much more bitter.

When trying to avoid independent contractor misclassification claims, we’re often focused on reducing the risks of lawsuits, especially class actions. But there’s another threat that can be much harder to guard against.

So… what is the biggest overlooked risk for independent contractor misclassification claims?

I wrote about it last week, on the BakerHostetler Employment Law Spotlight blog. Still in suspense? You’ll have to click here to find out the answer.

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

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Announcement: Good Morning to our New Contingent Workforce Practice Team

Baker Hostetler Continent Workforce TeamI recently finished reading Elton John’s autobiography, Me. I’ve always been a big fan, particularly of the early 1970s albums and not the hits. Albums like Tumbleweed Connection, Honky ChateauCaptain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, and Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player have always been among my favorites.

I learned in the book that in 2012, Elton turned over his early 1970s collection to the Australian dance trio Pnau, letting them sample excerpts of these songs in unexpected ways. The result was Good Morning to the Night, a remix album that I had never heard of, but I listened and it blew my mind. Some of the tracks are dance mixes, which are generally not my thing but here it works, in a way I never could have imagined. Another track creates a Pink Floyd feel. Highly imaginative.

I’m excited to announce a new development too, but there is no accompanying dance track or remix.

Last week, BakerHostetler announced the formation of our new Contingent Workforce practice team, which is co-led by me and Mark Zisholtz. We assembled a team that consists of more than 20 Baker lawyers from various practice areas, including tax, employee benefits, government contracts, and corporate transactions. All of these areas of law can come into play when addressing contingent workforce issues .

I invite you to review the Contingent Workforce practice team’s web pages. The web design includes subpages focused on specific services we provide to userssuppliers, and gig economy & technology platforms. On the right side of the web page, you will also find links to two useful tools. The Playbook offers a practical approach for businesses looking for information on how to comply with California’s new independent contractor misclassification law, Assembly Bill 5; and Five Things You Should Know About Joint Employment provides useful tips and facts.

I also recommend Good Morning to the Night. It’s different and unexpected, especially if you know and love the early ‘70s Elton John songs that were not chart-toppers. You can thank me later. And check out the new Contingent Workforce web pages!

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

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Here’s me in a radio interview, explaining independent contractor misclassification risks in California

Ok, so that’s a pretty boring headline. I will accept responsibility for that.

Let’s try something different this week. Instead of reading, you can listen.

Here is a radio interview on KFROG radio, which aired in Southern California a few weeks ago. In the interview, I discuss California’s Assembly Bill 5, which will convert many independent contractors to employees under California law. I address unanticipated consequences and issues for businesses to consider as they prepare for this law to go into effect.

It’s just under 20 minutes so you can listen on your commute.  Or, if you live in trafficky California, you can listen to it four times on your commute.

You can click here to listen.

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

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In Contract Labor Agreements, This Simple Clause Can Be Your Pillow

Joint employment contract clauseFor humans, some things are essential. Like a good pillow. For non-humans, the anti pillow sometimes works too. Not sure how. But the non-human in this picture generally sleeps like this.

For businesses contracting for labor, some things are essential too. One clause you are likely to have in contract with a supplier of labor is the right to remove a bad apple from the project.

The bad apple clause typically reads something like this: “We have the right to remove any individual supplied by contractor from the project for any reason at any time.”

That’s useful, but does it create an argument that your business is taking control over the individual’s employment in a way that could make your business an employer (or joint employer) of an individual you remove?

Here’s a simple fix to improve your contracts and limit the viability of that argument:

“We have the right to remove any individual supplied by contractor from the project for any reason at any time. We do not, however, have any right to control the individual’s employment status with contractor. Contractor retains the sole right to make all decisions regarding the hiring, termination, and other conditions of employment for all individuals assigned to the project or removed from the project.”

Consider the addition of that extra sentence or two to be a fluffy pillow.  It will help you sleep better if faced with a misclassification or joint employment claim.

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

Need training on avoiding independent contractor misclassification claims? Hey, I do that!  

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Need Direction After California’s New Independent Contractor Law? Download the Playbook!

Siri punked me. Independent contractor misclassification AB 5Sometime I forget where I park, so when I went to the airport recently, I told Siri where I left the car.

Siri then punked me with this. I think it was intentional. Stupid AI.

California businesses may be in need of some direction too. On September 18, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 5 into law.  The law redefines the Independent Contractor vs. Employee test in California, applying an ABC Test to a broad range of state laws.

When the law takes effect January 1, 2020, it will instantly turn thousands of independent contractors into employees. Some aspects of the law may even apply retroactively.

What are your options?

I can think of ten. Click here to download The Playbook: Now That California Has Passed AB 5, What Are the Options for Businesses Using Independent Contractors?

 

Page 1 from The-Playbook-California-AB-5_p03

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

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California Businesses May Need Emotional Support Clown When New Independent Contractor Law Takes Effect

Emotional support clown independent contractor misclassification

An Auckland, New Zealand man sensed he was about to fired from his job in the ad industry. His employer scheduled a meeting and said he could bring someone with him for emotional support.

He brought a clown.

As the employer provided the man with his separation papers, the clown made balloon animals — a poodle and a unicorn — to try to lighten the mood. The clown also mimed crying as the employer explained the termination.

Afterward, the man described the performance of his emotional support clown as “overall supportive” but “sort of noisy.”

California businesses may want to hire their own emotional support clowns as they try to decide how to respond to Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5), which has passed both houses and now awaits Governor Newsom’s signature to become law.

AB 5 makes it harder to classify workers in California as independent contractors.  Once it takes effect, it will instantly convert many thousands of independent contractors into employees.

Here’s how. AB 5 codifies the ABC Test invented by the California Supreme Court in the Dynamex case and then extends it.  In April 2018, the California Supreme Court ruled that a strict ABC Test would be used for determining whether someone is an independent contractor or an employee under California’s Industrial Wage Orders, which cover minimum wage, overtime, meal and rest breaks, and a few other wage-related subjects.

Under AB 5, the Dynamex ABC Test will also be used to determine whether someone is an employee under all portions of the California Labor Code and the Unemployment Insurance Code.  That means independent contractors in California will be presumed to be employees of the entity for which they perform services under these laws, unless the business can prove all three of the ABC Test factors below:

A) The person is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of the work and in fact;

B) The person performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business; and

C) The person is customarily engaged in in independently established trade, occupation or business of the same nature as that involved in the work performed.

As discussed here, Part B of the test is the hardest to meet.

Unless all three factors of the test are satisfied, the workers will be considered employees under California law, and all of the following state law requirements will apply:

  • Minimum wage
  • Overtime, if not exempt, including daily overtime
  • Meal and rest breaks
  • Reimbursement of expenses
  • Paid sick leave
  • Paid family leave
  • Various notice, poster, and wage statement requirements
  • Timekeeping record requirements
  • Unemployment coverage
  • Workers compensation coverage
  • Paycheck timing requirements
  • On-call, call-back, and standby pay requirements
  • Travel time payment requirements
  • Final paycheck requirements
  • Commission rules

This is not intended to be a complete list of all California laws that apply to employees, but these are some of the most likely areas where businesses would find themselves to be in a state of noncompliance if their independent contractors are deemed to be employees under AB 5.

There are a number of exemptions to the bill, but they are narrowly crafted.  Barbers and estheticians, for example, are not affected.

If signed, the law will take effect January 1, 2020, although some provisions may be applied retroactively.

This bad news leads to the obvious question you astute readers will ask: So what are my options if I use independent contractors in California?

I am putting the finishing touches on The Playbook: Now That California Has Passed AB 5, What Are the Options for Businesses Using Independent Contractors?

The Playbook will be available at no cost and will be released as a BakerHostetler Client Alert. I will post a link here, once it is available.

In the meantime, let me know if you’d like more information about how AB 5 might affect your business. If you can’t reach me, I’m probably on the phone, trying to hire my own emotional support clown.

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

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Sperm Oil Legal Alert: Can You Sue under the Tax Code for Independent Contractor Misclassification?

Sue tax code independent contractor misclassification

When laws are well-written, they’re really specific so everybody knows what you can and cannot do. For example, Title 21, Section 173.275(c) makes it a federal crime to use more hydrogenated sperm oil in food than necessary to accomplish the intended lubricating effect of the sperm oil. (Thanks @CrimeADay!)

Some laws, on the other hand, leave room for interpretation. That’s when lawyers can get creative.

A drapery hanger in Maryland filed a lawsuit alleging that he was misclassified as an independent contractor and should have been paid overtime like an employee. He sued under the usual federal and state laws, but he added a bit of creativity.

The Internal Revenue Code includes a section allowing someone to sue if an evildoer “files a fraudulent information return with respect to payments purported to be made to any other person.” That’s 26 USC 7434, for those keeping score at home. And USC refers to the United States Code, not OJ Simpson’s alma mater.

The drapery hanger included this claim in his lawsuit, alleging that the sole proprietorship that allegedly owed him overtime pay also violated this law by filing 1099s instead of W-2s.

Points will be awarded here for creativity, but those points cannot be used in court. Federal courts don’t take points. (This was not addressed in law school.) All points awarded may be applied to future discounts at your local gas station. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited.

The court said, nice try but no. This section of the Code refers to the filing of fraudulent amounts of pay, not filing the wrong form.

Had the decision gone the other way, a claim under this section of the Code could be tacked onto just about every independent contractor misclassification lawsuit. And we don’t need that hassle. There are already enough laws that cover misclassification. And sperm oil.

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

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Employees Say They’ve Been Robbed! NLRB Says Independent Contractor Misclassification Does NOT Violate the National Labor Relations Act

Burglar roomba misclassification

Sheriff’s deputies in Washington County, Oregon, responded with guns drawn, expecting they were responding to a burglary in progress. A woman had called 911, saying that someone had broken into her house and locked themselves in the bathroom. She could hear rustling noises from behind the bathroom door, even though she knew she hadn’t allowed anyone into her home.

The officers entered the home and heard it too. They demanded that the suspect come out of the bathroom, hands raised. But no one responded. They busted open the door, ready to take down the suspected burglar by force.

What they found instead was a Roomba. The homeowner’s robotic vacuum cleaner had gotten stuck in the bathroom.

Calling the Roomba a burglar didnt make it a burglar, and calling in a suspected burglary did not make the woman a victim.

People make mistakes, and calling something the wrong thing can be an excusable mistake.

That’s essentially what the National Labor Relations Board ruled late last week, in a major pro-business decision.

In a case called Velox Express, The Board ruled that to misclassify a worker as an independent contractor — when the worker should have been an employee — is not a violation of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA or the Act).

The Board reasoned that The Act prohibits interfering with employees’ Section 7 rights. Section 7 rights refer to employees’ right to engage in protected concerted activities, such as banding together to complain about their treatment. The Board said that by misclassifying employees as independent contractors, a company is merely stating a legal opinion about what the worker is. Telling workers they are contractors does not, by itself, interfere with their ability to organize or engage in protected concerted activity. If they’re really employees, they still can. It’s only if the company coerces or threatens the workers that the company interferes and then violates the Act.

The Board further reasoned that it’s hard sometimes to tell whether a worker is a contractor or an employee, and Congress did not intend to punish companies for making a mistake.

This decision will be blasted by worker advocates and, frankly, it’s surprising even to me.

The ALJ Decision That Led to This Ruling

We wrote about this case previously here, when an Administrative Law Judge made three important rulings.

First, the ALJ found that Velox exercised significant control over how its delivery drivers performed their work, which made them drivers under the NLRB’s Right to Control Test.

Second, the ALJ ruled that Velox violated Section 8(a)(1) of the Act when it discharged driver Jeannie Edge for raising group complaints that Velox exercised too much control over its drivers.  (In a somewhat ironic twist, Edge wanted to be an independent contractor but had perceived, correctly, that Velox was treating its drivers more like employees, even though it was calling them contractors. Edge wanted Velox to treat the drivers more hands-off, the way contractors would typically be treated.)

Third, the ALJ ruled that misclassifying an independent contractor was, by itself, a violation of the NLRA. The ALJ’s reasoning was that by misclassifying workers as independent contractors, the company was in effect telling the workers they had no rights under the NLRA, since that Act protects only employees, not independent contractors.

NLRB’s Decision

The case was appealed to the full Board, which agreed that (1) the Velox drivers were really employees under the common law Right to Control Test, and (2) Velox violated Section 8(a)(1) when it discharged Edge for engaging in protected concerted activity.

But the Board rejected Finding #3, ruling instead that misclassifying workers as independent contractors is, ho-hum, merely expressing a legal opinion. Section 8(c) of the Act says it’s not a violation to express an opinion.

The Board recognized that the outcome would be different if the company misclassified its workers as contractors for the purpose of interfering with employees’ Section 7 rights or to coerce them not to exercise those rights. But misclassification alone is not a violation of the NLRA.

So, Is Misclassification Now Lawful? Hey Man, Are You Gonna Shut Down the Blog?

No! and No! This decision says only that the act of misclassification is not an automatic violation of the NLRA. That’s just one law.

When a company misclassifies an employee as an independent contractor, every other law related to employees still applies. A company that misclassifies employees as contractors can still be violating tax law by not withholding from wages; can be held liable for violating wage and hour law by failing to pay a minimum wage or overtime or failing to provide meal and rest breaks; can still be in violation of state workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance law by failing to pay into those systems; can be in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act by failing to offer the type of leave available to employees; and can still find itself in violation of every other law that grants rights to employees when the company does not grant those rights.

Misclassification can still violate the NLRA too, if a company engages in misclassification for the purpose of interfering with employees’ rights.

The game is still very much on.

So What Impact Will This Decision Have?

Probably not much. It sounds like a doozy, and it is; but as a practical matter, it probably doesn’t change a whole lot. Independent Contractor Misclassification still has significant legal consequences, and companies who misclassify workers as independent contractors when they should really be employees still face liability under a long list of employment, tax, and benefit laws. Violations of these laws continue to result in massive liabilities, often in the many millions of dollars.

This pro-business decision by the Board may result in fewer unfair labor practice disputes, but even that outcome seems unlikely. Disputes over employee vs. independent contractor status usually arise because there’s a real dispute over how a company is treating its workers, not merely because it used the wrong terminology. Any failure by a company to grant employees rights they are entitled to receive is still a violation of law, even if it’s no longer a violation of the NLRA merely to call an employee an independent contractor.

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

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