“Don’t Look Back” was the title track on Boston’s second album, released in 1978. The album version came in at six minutes, but a radio edit brough it down to four.
This is a practice I never understood. People used to listen to the radio for hours at a time, but six minutes was too long for one song? Why is it better to ingest two three-minute songs per six minutes than one six-minute song? But maybe I’m the wrong person to ask. My idea of an excellent album is Tales from Topographic Oceans by Yes. The album consists of four songs, each about 20 minutes long, and was inspired by a footnote in a book about Hindu texts by the yogi Paramahansa Yogananda.
But this is getting way off track.
I chose “Don’t Look Back” as the theme for today’s post because it’s good advice for life, but bad advice for drafting arbitration agreements.
For businesses that make widespread use of independent contractors, one of the best strategies for protecting against misclassification claims is by having a robust arbitration agreement with a class action waiver. But too many times those agreements don’t look back.
Lately I’ve seen a couple of decisions in which arbitration agreements were found not to cover particular claims, when those claims arose from events that happened before the agreement was signed. I think those cases were wrongly decided, since arbitration covers the process for resolving disputes, regardless of when they arise. But it makes good sense to draft in a way that cuts off this line of attack.
I have recently started adding a sentence to my arbitration agreements that goes something like this: “Covered disputes also include disputes relating to past events, including those that predate this Agreement.”
Today’s tip is to go back and look at your arbitration agreements. If they aren’t clear about covering claims based on earlier events, consider adding this clarification next time you update the agreement.
Now for those of you who would like an earworm for the day, here you go:
Don't look back, ooh, a new day is breakin' It's been too long since I felt this way I don't mind, ooh, where I get taken The road is callin', today is the day
This headline does not refer to the Chinese spy ballon.
Instead, I’m thinking about 1968. Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones had joined up to form a new band after the breakup of the Yardbirds. Drummer Keith Moon of The Who supposedly said the project would go down like a lead balloon.
One of the largest balloons, of course, is the zeppelin. The zeppelin was a passenger airship used until the Hindenberg disaster in 1937. So the band named itself Led Zeppelin, dropping the ‘a’ in Lead so people wouldn’t mispronounce the name of the band.
In 1971, the band released Led Zeppelin IV, which included the song “Going to California” and this lyric:
Spent my days with a woman unkind Smoked my stuff and drank all my wine Made up my mind to make a new start Going to California with an aching in my heart
For today’s post, I’m going to California with an aching in my heart.
Cities in California have upped their game when going after companies that use independent contractors. They’re taking the lead (not led) in bringing their own lawsuits.
In January 2023, the City of San Francisco secured a $5.25 million settlement to cover 5,000 independent contractor delivery drivers. The lawsuit alleged a failure to comply with the city’s health care security and paid sick leave ordinances, which apply to employees.
In October 2022, San Diego’s city attorney settled its own independent contractor misclassification lawsuit for $46.5 million. That deal covered 300,000 independent contractor delivery drivers.
In 2021, San Francisco reached agreement on another delivery driver misclassification lawsuit, settling for $5.3 million to cover 4,500 local drivers.
The mountains and the canyons start to tremble and shake The children of the sun begin to awake (watch out)
States are following a similar playbook, as we recently saw when New Jersey obtained a $100 million settlement, alleging that a rideshare app company failed to pay into the state unemployment insurance fund for independent contractor drivers.
It seems that the wrath of the gods got a punch on the nose And it's startin' to flow, I think I might be sinkin'
Government-initiated lawsuits can be particularly dangerous because arbitration agreements and class action waivers are ineffective. The governments are fighting for funds they think are rightfully theirs.
They also have political motives driving their prosecutions. Officials facing re-election want to be able to show their constituents they’re making a difference and fighting for workers’ rights (and ignoring, as usual, the fact that most IC drivers want to remain ICs).
Throw me a line, if I reach it in time I'll meet you up there where the path runs straight and high
The trend of government-backed compliance efforts is going to continue and will likely increase. Companies making widespread use of independent contractors should be proactive in evaluating these relationships, the contracts, and the local laws to build a comprehensive defense strategy — before getting sued.
There’s an island in Quebec that’s larger in area than the lake in which it sits. René-Levasseur Island was supposedly formed by the impact of a meteorite 214 million years ago, although eyewitness accounts differ. The land mass became an island in 1970, when the Manicougan reservoir was flooded, merging two crescent shaped lakes that surrounded the area.
I like fun geography facts, and an island larger than the lake in which it sits is a fun fact. But feels a bit aggressive for the Canadians to merge two crescent shaped lakes to turn this land mass into an island. I’m sure they had their reasons. If nothing else, it looks good on a map.
The Department of Labor is also being aggressive, but they’re not flooding any reservoirs. Instead, they’re channeling their aggression toward independent contractor misclassification.
In a news release this month, the DOL announced that it had obtained a consent judgment for $5.6 million against a national auto parts distributor and an Arizona logistics firm for allegedly misclassifying 1,398 drivers as independent contractors. The award included back wages and liquidated damages.
The DOL had alleged that, by misclassifying the drivers, the companies failed to meet minimum wage requirements, failed to pay overtime rates, and failed to keep required timekeeping records. These failures each were violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
The award covered an eight-year period between April 2012 and March 2020.
I see three takeaways here:
First, the DOL is being aggressive in filing lawsuits when it thinks independent contractors have been misclassified. This consent judgment shows how expensive these claims can be for companies that improperly classify workers. Companies using independent contractors needs to be proactive in evaluating their risks and taking steps to minimize those risks. There are lots of ways to reduce risk if you plan ahead, before you’ve been sued or investigated.
Second, this case is a reminder that companies who classify delivery drivers as independent contractors are at heightened risk. Federal and state agencies and the plaintiffs’ bar seem to be filing a disproportionate number of claims involving delivery drivers. If your business uses delivery drivers who are classified as independent contractors, you may be at an increased risk of an audit or lawsuit.
Third, remember the DOL’s proposed new rule for independent contractor classification under the FLSA? (Read more here, here, and here.) The DOL wants to change the current test for who is an employee under the FLSA, replacing a regulation adopted by the Trump Administration in 2020. But cases like this one show that the current regulation is not impairing the DOL’s ability to enforce what it perceives as misclassification. The DOL’s many recent successes — as posted in DOL news releases — show that the DOL is doing just fine under the current rule when it comes to misclassification enforcement. The new rule is a solution without a problem.
Large judgments like this one seem shocking, but they are a reminder of the substantial dangers of misclassification.
Learn more by joining me at the 10th Annual 2023 BakerHostetler Labor Relations and Employment Law Master Class, all virtual, one hour every Tuesday starting February 7, 2023. My program on Contingent Workforce issues will be on March 7, 2023. Registration is free.
In Denbighshire, Wales, the Howatson family lives in a small house that sits… wait for it… in the middle of a roundabout.
In the early 1980s, after the family had been in the house for 20 years, local authorities told them their property sat smack in the middle of where a roundabout was to be built. The family refused to sell, and they now have lovely 360-degree views of people driving around their house all day and night.
The Department of Labor is taking is a more direct approach in its effort to update the worker classification test under the Fair Labor Standards Act. But it’s a slow process, and it will be several more months before we see a final rule.
But this post will provide a status update. Long story short, we’ll see a new rule when the DOL gets around to it.
In October 2022, the DOL released its proposed new test for determining who is an employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The proposed rule generated more than 50,000 comments in response. I posted some initial reactions to the proposed rule in this article here.
The proposed rule identifies seven factors to consider when determining whether an independent contractor has been misclassified under the FLSA:
1. Opportunity for profit or loss depending on managerial skill;
2. Investments by the worker and the employer;
3. Degree of permanence of the work relationship;
4. Nature and degree of control;
5. Extent to which the work performed is an integral part of the employer’s business;
6. Skill and initiative; and
7. Additional factors.
Under federal law, the rulemaking process involves three main steps. First, the agency posts a proposed new regulation. That’s what the DOL did in October.
Second, there is a public comment period, in which anyone can submit a comment to the DOL. The most effective comments tend to assist the agency in evaluating its proposed rule, such as explaining likely unintended consequences or identifying concerns with how it is written. Comments can also offer legal arguments as to why the agency’s proposed rule is not consistent with the law it is supposed to be interpreting.
Finally, after reviewing the comments, the agency will publish a final rule. The final rule might differ from the proposed rule, or it could be the same. Or the agency can jettison the proposed rule entirely and do nothing. Here that last option is unlikely. The DOL will almost certainly issue a new rule.
On December 13, I submitted a lengthy comment on behalf of Flex, the trade organization representing app-based rideshare and delivery platforms. The full comment is available here, and I thought it might be helpful to summarize the main points for this audience.
The comment included two parts.
Part One argues that the DOL should not abandon the current rule (the 2021 Rule), which was passed less than two years ago. The 2021 Rule was adopted after a thorough rulemaking process and comment period, and the rule was developed based on a detailed analysis by the DOL of decades of case law. The 2021 Rule focused on two core factors, rather than offering a multitude of factors that have no pre-assigned weight. The 2021 Rule offered more predictability for businesses and contractors, and predictability in the law is — to put it bluntly — good. A regulation should add clarity, and the 2021 Rule added clarity.
Part One also pointed out that the 2021 Rule had done little to damper the DOL’s efforts at combatting misclassification. The DOL has published a long list of successes in obtaining settlements and judgments in the last three months alone.
Abandoning the 2021 Rule would also be arbitrary and capricious, meaning it might not survive a legal challenge, and we urged the DOL not to make a change.
Part Two argues that even if the DOL decides to abandon the 2021 Rule, the proposed new rule needs some work. Part Two focused on seven aspects of the proposed new rule that the DOL should change.
The key thing to remember is that the DOL wants to go back to a multi-factor test. Multi-factor tests have been around for a long time, but the devil here is in the details. If you read the DOL’s description of each factor and how it should be applied, the DOL is putting its fingers on the scale, taking every close call (and some that aren’t close) and resolving them in favor of employee status.
I will list the seven arguments below to provide a general sense of the key points. But, since this is supposed to be a quick read format, I’m not going to wade into the details. You can read the full comment if you like.
From the Table of Contents to Part Two:
1) In Factor #1, the Commentary about “Managerial Skill” Should Be Deleted or Revised Because It Fails to Account for the Realities of 21st Century Work.
2) Factor #2 Should Be Substantially Revised to Remove Provisions That Are Illogical, Incompatible with Economic Realities, and Contrary to FLSA Case Law.
3) Factor #4 Should Remove the Commentary That Legally Required Control May Be Relevant Evidence of Control Because This Commentary Is Contrary to Controlling Case Law, Contrary to this Department’s Own Guidance, and Not Probative of the Economic Realities of a Relationship.
4) In Factor #4, Use of Technology to Supervise Should Not Be Referenced as a Relevant Control Factor.
5) Factor #5 Should Preserve the Current “Integrated Unit of Production” Analysis and Should Not Adopt a Flawed “Integral Part” Analysis That is Contrary to Case Law and Legally Unsupported.
6) Any Final Rule Should Preserve the Helpful Subregulatory Guidance in Fact Sheet #13, Clarifying That Certain Factors Are Not Relevant.
7) Any Final Rule Should Replace the Term “Employer” with “Principal” or a Similarly Neutral Term.
And now onto Step Three of the DOL’s rulemaking process. Last week, the Biden Administration published its overall regulatory agenda for 2023. It included a May 2023 placeholder for a proposed final rule. That’s just a best guess at this point, and with more than 50,000 comments for the DOL to review, the actual release date may be several months later. But the DOL, at least at present, appears prepared to move forward with a new rule to determine independent contractor vs. employee status under the FLSA.
We’ll continue to monitor developments, in a roundabout way.
A chess-playing robot took enforcement a bit too seriously at a recent tournament in Moscow. Facing a 9-year old human opponent, the robot grabbed and broke the boy’s index finger when the boy reached toward the board when it was the robot’s turn to move. When you’re a robot, rules are rules.
The robot had been in use for 15 years (and the boy had been in use only 9). Neither robot nor boy had any known history of delinquency, but this sounds like a textbook case of bullying. And there’s video!
In an unrelated matter, New York Governor Kathy Hochul was not going to be bullied by the state legislature into signing a recently passed bill that would have imposed new requirements on the use of individual independent contractors.
Hochul vetoed the proposed Freelance Isn’t Free Act on the grounds that it imposed inappropriate burdens on the NY State Department of Labor. In her veto statement, she wrote that the state DOL “could not implement the legislation effectively” because it required the DOL to oversee private contracts between businesses and non-employees. That’s well outside the DOL’s mission of enforcing labor protections for employees.
The law would have required written contracts with individual freelancers, with various types of mandatory disclosures in each contract.
The proposed law was a statewide version of New York City’s Freelance Isn’t Free Act, which NYC enacted in 2016. A summary of the NYC law is here. In 2017, the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs published an additional set of rules implementing the act and adding new restrictions that were not in the original law.
Because the 2022 legislative session has ended, the NY state assembly cannot override her veto, but the bill could be reintroduced in 2023.
If the assembly wants to try again, it might try another version that does not involve the DOL, since this is not a misclassification bill and is not a matter between employers and employees. For the bill to be effective, it would need a suitable yet aggressive enforcer of the new rules.
I know of a chess-playing robot in Moscow that might be available.
If you google “what to watch for 2023,” you’ll mostly get tips on soon-to-be-released movies and streaming video shows. You’ll get grammatically impossible generic hype like “movies we can’t wait to see” (except the whole point is that you have to wait to see them) and you’ll get grammatically impossible niche hype like “The most anticipated Korean dramas and movies we can’t wait to watch in 2023.”
We won’t peddle hype in this post, and you’ll literally have to wait for all of the things addressed below. But here are five important developments to watch for in 2023.
1. The test for Independent Contractor vs. Employee is likely to change, at least under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The Department of Labor proposed a new multi-factor test, and the period for public comment ended December 13. The DOL is likely to roll out a new test in 2023. It will replace the current core factors test described here.
2. The test for Joint Employment is likely to change, at least under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). In September, the NLRB proposed a new test for determining when joint employment exists under the NLRA. You can read more here. The public comment period has closed, and we can expect a new test sometime in 2023.
3. The NLRB is likely to rule that independent contractor misclassification, by itself, is an unfair labor practice. The NLRB General Counsel has expressed an intent to reverse the Velox Express decision from 2019, in which the Board ruled that misclassification was not an automatic ULP. More information is here. Now that the Board majority has switched from Republican to Democrat, expect a decision in 2023 that creates an automatic ULP when there’s a finding of worker misclassification.
4. Expect state legislatures to keep changing the tests for Independent Contractor vs. Employee. Some states will try to make it harder to maintain independent contractor status by passing ABC Tests, in either a standard or strict version. A few conservative states may go the other way and adopt the latest version of the Uniform Worker Classification Act proposed by ALEC. The law would create a safe harbor for independent contractor classification if certain requirements are followed, including having a written contract. Versions of this law have been passed in West Virginia and Louisiana. You can read more here. Expect Oklahoma to be next.
5. Expect significant rulings on California independent contractor law. Several important cases are pending. These include Olson v. State of California, which challenges the constitutionality of AB 5. Oral argument was held in the Ninth Circuit in July 2022. In another case, the California Court of Appeal is considering the legality of Prop 22, the successful ballot measure that helped to protect independent contractor status for rideshare and delivery drivers using app services. Oral argument in that case, Castellanos v. State of California, was held in December 2022.
The law regarding contingent workforce is constantly changing, and 2023 looks to be another year of significant transformation. As always, it will be a good idea to watch these new developments carefully, as they will likely have a significant impact on companies using independent contractors and other contingent workforce arrangements.
If you have a beard at least 8 inches long, here’s an opportunity you might not have considered. At a bar in Casper, Wyoming, a group of bewhiskered patrons tied their beards together to take the world’s record for Longest Beard Chain.
How long? 150 feet, shattering the previous record of 62 feet, set by a shaggy German crew in 2007.
But that wasn’t even the hairiest highlight of the weekend. Down the street was the National Beard and Moustache Championships, a visual delight featuring moustache categories such as best handlebar, Dali, freestyle, and uber-stache, and partial beard categories including best friendly sideburns, goatee freestyle, musketeer, and Fu Manchu.
Meanwhile, 1,000 miles to the west, a different sort of hairy situation was nearing conclusion for several operators of gentleman’s clubs or nightclubs or strip joints, depending on your preferred terminology.
Last week, a federal district court in San Francisco approved a settlement that combined multiple class action claims of independent contractor misclassification brought by exotic dancers. The settlement covered more than 8,000 dancers and included a total payout of $6.5 million.
The cases were complicated by a number of legal issues, including the fact that — because of the timing of the lawsuit — the question of whether the dancers were contractors or employees was to be determined using different tests for different claims. The dancers’ classification for their California wage order claims would be determined using an ABC Test, but their classification under other Labor Code claims would be determined using the Borello balancing test, which is a California hybrid of Right to Control and Economic Realities Tests.
The class period covered 2010 through 2018, so the Dynamex decision applied to the wage claims, but AB5 had not yet been enacted, which left the Borello test to govern the Labor Code claims. This post explains the complicated situation that existed at the time. Had the class covered the period from January 2020 forward, the ABC Test likely would have been used to determine classification under all of the California claims.
But there were also Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) claims. The FLSA uses an Economic Realities Test to determine a worker’s classification, but that test is fluid too. The Economic Realities Test used by most courts is different from the test that was written into the current FLSA regulations in 2020, which is different from the test the DOL recently proposed to enact in a new set of regulations currently under consideration.
So for these class members, there were at least three different tests that would determine whether they were employees or independent contractors under different laws. That’s kind of like trying to determine who had the best musketeer or Fu Manchu but with everyone’s facial hair tied together in a 150-foot beard chain.
There are a few takeaways here for the rest of us.
First, misclassification claims by exotic dancers remain common. The business model needs some internal review. But that’s probably not your concern.
Second, the settlement is a good reminder of how complicated it can be to determine a worker’s classification when multiple laws apply. Different tests apply to different laws, even within the same state. The dancers, had they gone to trial, might have been employees under some laws and contractors under other laws.
Third, there are significant costs in reclassifying contractors to employees. The settlement required the clubs to reclassify their dancers to employees, which means the dancers would become eligible for unemployment, workers’ comp coverage, and protection under the anti-discrimination and leave laws that apply to employees.
Regardless of your business, it’s always a good idea to proactively review independent contractor relationships to see how well they would withstand a classification challenge in court. Misclassification cases are high stakes and can take many twists and turns. Sort of like the facial hair in the Full Beard Freestyle category. (Photos here.)
In Inner Mongolia, these sheep have been walking in a circle for about two weeks, with a few sheep occasionally standing in the middle. Here’s video.
Various theories have been circulating to try to explain the odd behavior, including that it may be some sort of bacteria-induced delirium.
But I think I know the real reason. (And a hearty Mazel Tov! to the wooly couple!)
When drafting independent contractor agreements, it’s never a good idea to be unsure of why you’re doing something. Too often, businesses use generic agreements and don’t understand the impact or purpose of what they’ve written.
One common place I see mistakes is in the very beginning of contracts – the contractual recitals.
Recitals are often used to provide context for the reader. Recitals are also used for six-year old piano players to play chopsticks for grandma, but that’s for another day. For example, an off-the-shelf independent contractor agreement might start with something like this: We’re in the business of doing X, and we are retaining Contractor to do this part of X. Therefore, the parties agree to the following terms.
The problem with that innocent sounding recital is that it may be evidence the contractor is misclassified.
Under a Strict ABC Test, if the work being performed by the contractor is within the hiring party’s usual course of business, the contractor is automatically considered an employee. That fact fails prong B of a strict ABC Test.
Under an Economic Realities Test or a Right to Control Test, one of the factors often considered is often whether the work being performed is “an integral part” of the business, or some variation on that theme. Unlike ABC Tests, these tests are balancing tests and so one factor will not necessarily determine a worker’s classification, but there’s no reason to give the factor away, especially in a contract recital.
In a misclassification challenge, every fact and contract term will be subject to scrutiny.
If you’re unsure whether the term is needed, then question whether to include it. Recitals generally aren’t needed at all, and I often omit them from my independent contractor agreements. Don’t include off-the-shelf terms if you don’t understand their effect.
Unexplainable behavior makes for good blog posts and tweets, but not good contracts.
Which is why I never ask unfamiliar sheep to help me draft contracts.
The world’s dirtiest man died last month at the (ripe) age of 94, having reportedly going 60 years without bathing. Covered in soot and living in a cinder-block shack, the Iranian hermit was known for eating roadkill, smoking a pipe filled with animal excrement, and believing that cleanliness would make him ill.
The newest dirtiest man alive may be this guy in India, who as of 2009 hadn’t bathed in a mere 35 years. Instead of water, this man of the people opts for a “fire bath,” in which he lights a bonfire, smokes marijuna and stands on a leg praying to Lord Shiva. The man told a reporter from the Hindustan Times, “Fire bath helps kill all the germs and infections in the body.” Of course it does.
Sometimes when we settle lawsuits, we also feel dirty. Maybe not that dirty, but at least icky. It feels wrong to pay money to a plaintiff when we feel the other party doesn’t deserve it. But settlements are often driven by factors other than the merits of a claim, such as business conditions or considerations other than purely financial.
In independent contractor misclassification cases, a settlement is sometimes the only way to ensure that a lawsuit does not result in forced reclassification of workers. In a settlement, the parties can agree upon terms, including financial payments, without conceding that anyone was misclassified and without requiring a reclassification going forward.
That is what happened in a recent case involving A Place for Rover, which is an app-based gig economy company that connects dog walkers with dog owners.
In May 2021, the app company won summary judgment in a misclassification dispute. The company argued that dog walkers were independent contractors, not employees, even under California law. The company argued that it could satisfy each prong of the ABC Test and that, regardless, it was a referral service under California law, which would exempt it from the ABC Test usually used in California to determine whether a worker is an employee. The company urged the court instead to analyze the classification dispute using the S.G. Borello balancing test, not an ABC Test.
The district court did not reach a conclusion on whether the company was a referral service and instead determined that the ABC Test was satisfied. The court ruled that dog walkers controlled their own work, routes, and prices, making them legitimate independent contractors.
But the plaintiff appealed, and the company may have feared that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals would revive the case and send it to trial. Instead of taking a chance on a bad outcome, the company settled.
By settling, the company pays money to avoid the risk of a judgment that the dog walkers were employees, an outcome that would likely render the company’s business model no longer viable. The company’s decision makers probably felt a little dirty, paying any money at all after having won at the district court level. That is not a surprising outcome, even if they felt strongly about their case. Because the stakes are so high in misclassification litigation, that’s often how these cases conclude. Icky but sometimes necessary.
But at least in litigation, afterwards you can take a bath.
The parliament of New Zealand maintains a list of words and phrases that are considered unbecoming to say about another member and are therefore banned from use during parliamentary debates. These include:
His brains could revolve inside a peanut shell for a thousand years without touching the sides.
Energy of a tired snail returning home from a funeral.
Could go down the Mount Eden sewer and come up cleaner than he went in.
Silly old moo.
Words matter when trying to preserve a worker’s independent contractor classification too. Avoid possessives when referring to independent contractors, who are not “your” anything. The terminology you use should be consistent with the concept that the contractors are in business for themselves.
Check your company’s website and public facing materials and try to avoid phrases like this:
Our technicians [or representatives or whatever]
Our team of [whatevers]
We install/repair/other verb
Other words and phrases can also suggest employment and should be avoided when referring to contractors:
Hire (instead, retain)
Wages (instead, compensation)
Assignment (instead, project or engagement)
Duties (instead, services)
Using terminology that does not sound like employment will help when trying to show a court of agency that the relationship is not employment.
And never, ever tell anyone that your independent contractor’s brains could revolve inside a peanut shell for a thousand years without touching the sides. That’s just unbecoming.