Thanks, Electric Grandma! When Laws Collide, ABC Test Falls (This Time, at Least).

In 1982, a trio of children and their father had no grandma but desperately needed one. So, according to IMDB, they got “a very special robot grandmother to assist them.” It was futuristic fun and all the hijinks that accompany that sort of thing but, at its core, this was a simple clash of incompatible laws.

The Laws of Nature said “No Grandma,” but the Laws of Biomedical Engineering as Modified by 1980s Television Science Fiction said “Yes!”

This week’s post is also about what happens when two laws are incompatible, but we’ll steer clear of trying to figure out which part of grandma’s backside in the TV ad has father smiling in that way that makes me uncomfortable.

In Massachusetts, a group of 7-Eleven franchise owners sued 7-Eleven, Inc., claiming they should have been classified as employees of 7-Eleven, Inc. under the Massachusetts Independent Contractor Law. The Mass IC law is the strictest in the nation (take that, California!) and imposes an ABC Test that lacks the exceptions enjoyed by a select few Golden Staters.

Under the Mass IC law, “an individual performing any service” for another is presumed to be an employee. To avoid that conclusion, the alleged employer must prove all three parts of a strict ABC Test:

(A) the individual is free from control and direction in connection with the performance of the service, both under his contract for the performance of service and in fact; and

(B) the service is performed outside the usual course of the business of the employer; and

(C) the individual is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, profession or business of the same nature as that involved in the service performed.

The plaintiffs claimed that they were employees under Part A of the Mass IC Law because 7-Eleven exerted control over how they ran their stores.

But 7-Eleven said the type of control exerted was the type of control required under the Federal Trade Commission’s Franchise Rule and the 154-page Compliance Guide that instructs franchisors on what they need to do.

A federal district court agreed with 7-Eleven. The court ruled that the Mass IC Law and the FTC’s Franchise Rule were incompatible when it came to franchising, and the federal rule carries the day.

Case dismissed.

Other courts have agreed, even in California, that when the type of control exerted is required under another law, that is not the type of control that converts someone to an employee. The “required control” argument can be a powerful defense to a claim of independent contractor misclassification.

There has been a lot of concern in the franchising world that the increased adoption of ABC Tests and other laws designed to convert everyone into an employee may put the entire franchise model at risk. This decision, while certain to be appealed, should be somewhat reassuring to franchisors that the franchise model can survive, even in the face of the strictest of ABC Tests.

Meanwhile, The Electric Grandmother was nominated for a 1982 Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Program, and Maureen Stapleton went on to do voiceover for the non-electric grandmother in Snow Cat, showing her versatility in playing both electric and non-electric grandmothers.

Snow Cat, according to IMDB, was a “series of children’s videos with awesome original songs about awesome trucks.” In case you needed something to watch tonight.

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

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Did a State Supreme Court Just Rewrite a Key Definition in Independent Contractor Misclassification Law?

knowtherulesFor businesses using independent contractors and concerned about misclassification claims, there hasn’t been too much to get mad about lately. As of last week, I’m just mad about saffron. (She’s just mad about me.)

But a recent decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court may change that. The PA Supreme Court just took a commonly used phrase in Employee vs. Independent Contractor tests and gave it a new meaning. (Fun fact about change: If you change your name, you probably can’t include a numeral or punctuation.”)

Under PA unemployment law, anyone receiving pay is an employee for unemployment insurance purposes, unless the individual is (a) free from control and direction, and (b) customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, profession or business. Traditionally, that’s a test that’s been considered pretty easy to meet. Maybe not anymore.

Addressing part (b), the PA Supreme Court ruled that to be “customarily engaged in” an independent business, the individual must — right now — “actually be involved, as opposed to merely having the ability to be involved, in an independently established trade, occupation, profession, or business.”

The Court looked to see whether the contractor actually operated his/her own business. Merely being allowed to do so wasn’t enough. It may still be enough if the contractor advertises his/her services to the public, even if a contractor doesn’t have other customers at that particular time. But the contractor needs to take some affirmative steps that show that the contractor is — at that time — “actually involved” in an “independently established trade, occupation, profession or business” at the same time the contractor is being paid by whatever company doesn’t think that worker is its employee.

If this “actually engaged” standard is applied in other states, it may make it harder in other states to maintain independent contractor status. States that have a similar “customarily engaged in” requirement in one or more of their misclassification tests include:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii (apostrophe before the last i or no? I never know.)
  • Indiana
  • Lousiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin

Yikes. In most of these states, the “customarily engaged in” language is in the statutes covering who is an employee for unemployment insurance, but some of the states also include this as part of their test for other laws.

In California and Massachusetts, for example, that language is part C of the dreaded ABC Test that addresses other aspects of the employer-employee relationship.

To be safe, companies should consider requiring independent contractors to provide some proof that they are “actually engaged in” an “independently established trade, occupation, profession or business.” The proof might consist of evidence that they advertise for other customers or that they have other clients. What’s considered sufficient in one state might not be good enough in another.

While coronavirus seems to be dominating the news cycle, let’s not lose sight of the fact that independent contractor relationships are still under attack. Companies should do what they can to be proactive. Now it a good time to evaluate your relationships with contractors to make sure they can withstand a challenge.

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

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Which States Are Trying to Kill “Independent Contractors” to Death? (Hint: One Rhymes with Schmalifornia)

Man Killed to Death - independent contractor misclassification

Only 4:34 am and already it’s gonna be a long day in the newsroom.

The tests for Independent Contractor vs. Employee vary state-by-state, law-by-law.

In some states, it’s particularly hard to show that an independent contractor relationship is real. These states want to call everyone an employee, even if the parties have agreed to classify the relationship as an independent contractor relationship. When it comes to independent contractor classification, these are the states that are killing it to death.

Like the poor guy who was the subject of this local news story. Getting killed to death — that’s gotta be one of the worst ways to die.

The Top Three Hardest States to Be Independent Contractors, from my vantage point, are: Continue reading

What is the Test for Independent Contractor vs. Employee? (Jan. 2019)

what is the test for independent contractor misclassificationSeems like a simple question, but it isn’t. My question to your question is, “Why do you ask?” That’s because the test for Independent Contractor vs. Employee is different under different laws.

And worse, the tests keep changing, as we saw in Monday’s post about the NLRB’s SuperShuttle decision.

As of today, January 31, 2019, here’s where we stand:

The current tests for determining Independent Contractor vs. Employee are:

National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)

Right to Control Test (SuperShuttle version, as of 1/25/19)

Title VII, Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), ERISA

Right to Control Test (Darden version, or some variant of it, as applied circuit by circuit)

Internal Revenue Service

Right to Control Test (IRS version)

Affordable Care Act

Right to Control Test (emphasis on particular factors, based on regulation)

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

Economic Realities Test (which different courts articulate differently)

California, Massachusetts wage & hour laws

ABC Tests (strict version of Part B)

New Jersey wage & hour

ABC Test (regular version of Part B)

California state laws other than wage & hour

S.G. Borello & Sons Test (customized hybrid version of Right to Control & Economic Realities Tests), we think, for now

State Unemployment and Workers Comp Laws

Pick a card, any card. Tests vary substantially state to state. Some are Right to Control Tests, some are ABC Tests, some are entirely made-up, customized tests that require consideration of — or proof of — specific factors

Other State Laws (wage & hour, discrimination, tax)

Tests vary significantly state by state, law by law

This chart may be a helpful start, but three significant challenges remain, when trying to determine Independent Contractor vs. Employee.

  1. Fifty Shades of Gray.  These tests, for the most part, are balancing tests. Courts and agencies must weigh multiple factors. In most instances, some factors will favor contractor status and some will favor employee status. Different courts may reach different conclusions, even with the same facts.
  2. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Multi-state employers face the added challenge of having to deal with different tests in different states. Then, just to keep everyone on their toes, states generally apply different tests for different state laws. Sometimes different tests apply in different industries too. Transportation workers, for example, may be subject to different tests than construction workers.
  3. Into the Wild. The tests keep changing. In January 2019, the NLRB changed its test in the SuperShuttle case. In 2018, California changed its test under state wage and hour law from the S.G. Borello balancing test to a strict ABC Test. In 2015, New Jersey switched to a different version of an ABC Test for its state wage and hour law. The times they are a-changin.

What to do about it? (Free tips!)

  1. Know the tests that apply where your business operates.
  2. Construct your independent contractor relationships in a way that tends to favor the factors supporting independent contractor status. Inevitably, business considerations will get in the way, and tough decisions will have to be made about how much control can be relinquished and how the relationships need to be structured. Adjust the facts of the relationship.
  3. Use a customized independent contractor agreement that emphasizes the factors that support independent contractor status. Avoid off-the-shelf agreements. Merely reciting that everyone agrees the relationship is an independent contractor relationship is only a teeny bit helpful. “Teeny bit helpful” is not the gold standard.
  4. Re-evaluate existing relationships, and make changes from time to time.
  5. Implement a gatekeeper system to prevent operations managers from entering into contractor relationships that may be invalid. Require any retention of a contractor to be approved by a point person, who can issue spot and seek help in evaluating whether a contractor relationship is likely to withstand a misclassification challenge.
  6. Seek legal help before you get audited or sued. Now is the time to review and modify relationships to reduce the likelihood of a misclassification claim. Once a claim is made, your business can only play defense. Create your playbook now, before the defense has to take the field.

For more information on joint employment, gig economy issues, and other labor and employment developments to watch in 2019, join me in Philadelphia on Feb. 26 or Chicago on Mar. 21 for the 2019 BakerHostetler Master Class on Labor Relations and Employment Law: Meeting Today’s Challenges. Advance registration is required. Please email me if you plan to attend, tlebowitz@bakerlaw.com. If you list my name in your RSVP, I will have your registration fee waived.

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

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Do ABC Tests Matter if my Business is not in California? (Yes!!!)

ABC Test Califoirnia Dynbamex Massachusetts other states

According to Michael Jackson and his brothers (don’t forget Tito), ABC is easy as 1-2-3, and it’s also easy as do-re-mi. According to Julie Andrews, in Do-Re-Mi, once you know the notes to sing, you can sing most anything. This is not technically true, as once demonstrated by William Hung.

ABC may sound easy, and some people might think they can sing anything.  But actual compliance with ABC Tests is not easy — and yes, every business needs to think about how it would comply with ABC Tests. (For background on What is an ABC Test?, read here and here.)

ABC Tests are not just in California. Massachusetts uses an ABC Test to determine who is an employee under state wage law. New Jersey uses an ABC Test to determine whether someone is an employee or independent contractor for state wage law. Unemployment too.

For unemployment purposes, lots of states use ABC tests to determine whether someone seeking unemployment coverage was your employee or an independent contractor. These states include Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia. There are more but I started prioritizing my list by number of electoral votes.

Because ABC Tests are stricter than ordinary balancing tests (like Right to Control or Economic Realities tests), your company may be required to make unemployment contributions for individuals who are independent contractors under most laws but are employees under your state’s unemployment compensation law. You could owe back assessments and penalties for failing to pay into the state unemployment insurance fund.

New York, Pennsylvania, and D.C. use ABC Tests for work performed in the construction industry.

Some states use even tougher multi-factor tests to determine whether an individual presumed to be an independent contractor is really an employee. Maine has an ABCDE Test, meaning each of five factors must be met (plus another 3 from a list of 7, creating a veritable menu of family-style Chinese take-out for misclassification). New Hampshire uses an ABCDEFG Test to determine whether someone is an employee subject to its workers compensation and wage and hour laws.

Congressional Democrats, including Bernie Sanders and his hair, have introduced a bill that would use an ABC Test to determine whether someone is an employee under the NLRA. The bill has no chance to become law unless (until?) the Democrats control both houses of Congress and the Presidency, but for now, it’s worth noting that there is a desire among some lawmakers to adopt sweeping changes to the definition of employee.

The point is that ABC tests are prevalent already — and they are expanding. The California decision adopting an ABC Test was issued three years after the New Jersey Supreme Court adopted a similar (but less stringent) ABC Test for its state wage and hour laws.

With more state legislatures and state supreme courts considering changing the tests, we can expect this trend to continue. We can expect more states to adopt ABC Tests, especially in states where the courts (like in California) make up ABC Tests without legislative input. For a legislature to pass an ABC Test, it takes some work, bicameral support, and usually the signature of a governor. For courts to make up new ABC Tests, however, it’s easy as 1-2-3, do-re-mi.

Business should be thinking proactively about whether their contracts, relationships, and public-facing statements (such as in websites) will allow them to support independent contractor status when an ABC Test is used to determine WhoIs My Employee?

© 2018 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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