Podcast: What You Need to Know About Independent Contractor Misclassification

IMG_1073This week, I am encouraging readers to tune in to this podcast from XpertHR, in which I discuss issues and hot topics related to independent contractor misclassification.

Topics covered include:

  • The attack on business models that rely on the use of independent contractors;
  • The future of misclassification claims;
  • Possible updates to the FLSA;
  • Industries that are most at risk for independent contractor misclassification claims; and
  • Common misconceptions.

I hope you enjoy this interview, and thank you to David Weisenfeld and Xpert HR.

Security Guards: Employees or Contractors?

security guard employee or independent contractorI never saw the movie Paul Blart: Mall Cop and almost certainly never will. (Do I really need explain that decision?)

The Independent Contractor vs. Employee question often arises in the context of security guards, though. I confess to not knowing how Paul Blart was classified but, for companies who retain security guards, the decision whether to hire them as employees or to contract with a security firm is an important one.

The main advantage of hiring security guards as employees is the ability to retain control over how an individual guard does the job. The company can select who it wants to work and when, and can provide as much supervision and direction as needed.

The biggest disadvantage to using employees for security work, however, is the risk of liability. The very purpose of the role is to guard against dangerous or threatening situations. Where a security guard overreacts, or where someone gets hurt by a guard acting in the normal course, lawsuits are sure to result. And the injuries are likely to involve more than hurt feelings.

A recent Texas case, Henderson v. CC-Parque View, illustrates the benefit of using contractors rather than employees to provide security services. In that case, a management company contracted with a security firm to provide guards at an apartment complex.

One night, an overzealous guard (we’ll call him Blart, because that truly is a great name for an overzealous guard) ordered Henderson (that’s Henderson’s real name), who was sitting in a parked car at the complex, to get out of his car. Henderson got out, but an argument ensued.

In an attempt to proclaim his invincibility, Henderson (I imagine this is how it went down) shouted, “I’m rubber and you’re glue and anything you say bounces off me and sticks to you.”

The guard, an avid fan of MythBusters, did not believe his antagonist’s impromptu physics lesson and shot him in the abdomen with a rubber bullet. It did not bounce. And it hurt.

Henderson sustained injuries. He sued the guard, the security company that employed the guard, and the management company of the apartment complex.

The suit against the guard and security company proceeded, but the management company successfully argued that the guard was not its employee and that it could not be liable for his actions.

The court ruled that the guard was a contractor, not an employee of the management company; and the management company was dismissed from the lawsuit.

Had the guard been hired directly by the management company as its employee, the outcome likely would have been very different, since employers are commonly held liable for the acts of their employees, when in the course of employment.

This case is a good reminder of the benefit of retaining an outside security firm, rather than hiring employees, to provide security services.

And did you hear there’s a Mall Cop 2? I also won’t watch that.

Never Been Sued? Congratulations! Here’s Why You Should Re-Evaluate Your Use of Independent Contractors Now.

IMG_1072Have you ever heard someone say, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result“? That’s just wrong. No, it’s insanely wrong. (Irony! Actual definition, click here).

  • If you flip a coin 5 times and it comes up heads each time, is it insane to think it might come up tails next time?
  • If you play golf in a lightning storm five times and never get hit, is it insane to think you might get a nice electrical jolt next time?
  • If you root for the Browns to win a football game and they never do, is it insane to think they never will? [Note to self: Delete that. Bad example. It is true that they might never win a game. Shameful admission: I am a Browns fan.]

My consistent advice to companies that use independent contractors is to be proactive. Review your policies, practices, and documents now — before you get sued or audited. Many take this advice. Those who do not generally give two reasons:

  1. We don’t want to spend the money now; and
  2. We’ve always done it this way and have never been sued.

Folks, that kind of thinking is: n. extreme foolishness; folly; senselessness; foolhardiness.

Here are a few quick facts:

  1. Every company that has been sued for independent contractor misclassification had never been sued before the first time it was sued.
  2. Every company that has been audited for independent contractor misclassification had never been audited before the first time it was audited.

Continue reading

The Myth of “Temporary Employees”

IMG_1067What is a “temporary employee”? I have practiced employment law for 20 years (Note to self: Keep practicing; someday you’ll get good at it.) and I can’t tell you. It’s a state secret. All lawyers have been sworn to secrecy forever.

Either that or, if you really want to know and say “pretty please” (with or without sugar on top, but no artificial sweetener please), that term has no legal significance. Usually the term is used to mean one of two things:

  1. your employee, hired on a trial basis with some sort of probationary period; or
  2. a staffing agency worker, retained to augment staff levels on a temporary basis.

Under option 1, the “temp” is a regular W-2 employee of yours, probably employed at will like your other employees, but whether you call that person “temp” or “permanent” or “regular” or “irregular” (?), none of it matters. A temp worker who is your employee, paid subject to deductions, is your employee.  Temp time counts toward FMLA eligibility. Continue reading

Can an Intern be an Independent Contractor? (Answers revealed in James Bond movies)

IMG_1068Among James Bond films, Rotten Tomatoes ranks Never Say Never Again 18th out of 26, with a mediocre 63% rating. (Bond movie quiz at the end of this post, for patient readers.)

It’s a cliche saying, I know, but my first reaction when asked this question was, “I’d never say never, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario where that would work.” (That was also my second reaction and my third. Let’s just say that’s my reaction.)

Let’s run this through the gauntlet. Remember, it’s not your choice whether an intern is an independent contractor or an employee. The law decides that for you, based on the nature of the relationship.

Test #1: Economic Realities Test. Under federal wage and hour laws, an independent Continue reading

Avoid this ADA Trap When Using Staffing Agency Workers

ADA staffing agency reasonable accommodation ambulance-2166079_1280ADA Quick Quiz: Your company uses staffing agency workers. A staffing agency worker discloses a medical need and asks for a reasonable accommodation — maybe a computer screen reading program, or an ergonomic chair, or a modified work schedule.

1. Which company must have the interactive conversation to determine what reasonable accommodation is appropriate?

(A) Your company
(B) The staffing agency
(C) Both

2. Which company is obligated to provide the reasonable accommodation?

(A) Your company
(B) The staffing agency
(C) Both

3. Which company is obligated today for the reasonable accommodation?

(A) Your company
(B) The staffing agency
(C) Both

Answers: Continue reading

How Can There Be Misclassification When The Worker Prefers to Be an Independent Contractor?

Alan Hudock

Photo of Singer Dave Mason (We Just Disagree), by Alan Hurtock

Let’s start with this: Everyone is happy being an independent contractor until they’re not.

What do I mean by that? Right now, the relationship works. The contractor performs, and you pay for the work.

But what happens when things go south? As soon as you decide you no longer need those services, the contractor might stop being your BFF.

A disgruntled former contractor has some options, all of which involve some variation of this story: “Once upon a time, I was misclassified and should have been an employee.” None of the former contractor’s possible next steps are good for you: Continue reading