NLRB’s Proposed New Joint Employment Rule: Same But Different

[Reposting with revised link to the article, not behind paywall]

When I was 5 years old, and my sister was 3, the rule was that we had to be in our rooms by 8 p.m.

We followed that rule, but in our own way. We’d put on our pajamas, say good night and go into our rooms. But then we would lie down on the carpet at the very edge of our rooms, with our bodies still in the room and our heads in the hallway so we could talk.

In the strictest sense, we followed the rule. But we did it in our own way, to serve our own purposes. In essence, we chose to define what it means to be in our rooms.

The same sort of rulemaking is happening at the National Labor Relations Board on the subject of defining joint employment.

Click here to read the rest of this article, published 9/12/2022 in Law360.

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© 2022 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved. This article originally published on Law360, 9/12/2022.

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Strap Yourself In: NLRB’s Joint Employer Rule is About to Change Again

Strap yourself in. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

I drove behind this band of safety-conscious paddle boarders near Chicago recently. The guy in back is secured in by bungy cord. At least he looks comfortable.

The NLRB is about to make things a lot more uncomfortable for businesses concerned about joint employment.

As discussed here, the NLRB made clear earlier this year that it wants to revamp the independent contractor vs. employee test under the National Labor Relations Act.

Expect a new rule on joint employment to drop any day. The NLRB indicated several months ago that the joint employment rule was a target in its rulemaking agenda, and the expected release date is July 00, 2022.

Like most of you, I switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar in 1752. While the changeover caused 11 days in September 1752 to be lost, I missed the memo about inserting a 0th day in July, starting 270 years later. Since I could find no way to mark the expected release date in my iPhone, I’ll give the NRLB the benefit of doubt and assume the date is a placeholder for “sometime in July.”

On Friday, it will be “sometime in July.” So get your bungy cord ready. You may need to take steps to better protect your business against joint employment risks.

The new rule will displace the current Trump-era regulation, which currently requires direct and substantial control over essential terms and conditions of employment before joint employment can be found.

Expect the new rule to track the Browning-Ferris standard imposed by the Board in 2015. Under Browning-Ferris, when one company has the right to control aspects of the work, joint employment exists — regardless of whether control is actually exerted, and regardless of whether the control is over wages, hours, scheduling or anything else that fits within the meaning of essential terms and conditions.

Joint employment under the NLRA can have several effects:

1. It can force you to the bargaining table for matters involving workers you did not consider to be your employees.

2. It can open the door to bargaining units that include workers you didn’t think were your employees.

3. It can open another door to bring union organizing activity into your business – through non-employee workers.

4. It can convert illegal secondary picketing into lawful primary picketing. If another company’s employees picket your site but the workers turn out to be your joint employees, they have the right to be there.

5. Each business that is a joint employer may be found jointly and severally liable for the other’s unfair labor practices.

When the new rule is posted, we’ll discuss what employers should do in response. Until then, enjoy the summer and try paddle boarding. But try to use a car with enough seats.

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© 2022 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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Iguanas with Jackets: Here’s One Exhibit to Include with Every Staffing Agency Agreement

I met this little guy in Costa Rica, 2017

It happens every year.

When the temperature in Florida drops into the 30s, the iguanas freeze. Unable to regulate their body temperature, they drop out of trees, landing on sidewalks and in yards like solid rubber toy animals.

The freeze doesn’t kill them though. It just stuns them for a while, then they eventually warm up, reanimate, and go about their daily iguana business.

Getting stunned like this can’t be avoided for the iguanas. Amazon is not yet selling iguana jackets, and online delivery to lizards is notoriously complicated. (Note to self: Business opportunity?)

But unlike iguanas, businesses can reduce their chances at getting stunned — at least when it comes to avoiding lawsuits from staffing agency workers.

When staffing agency workers file wage and hour lawsuits, they often sue both the staffing agency and the business where they worked. The workers allege that both are joint employers, often bringing class claims or a collective action.

Businesses that carefully draft their staffing agency agreements will have some natural defenses against these claims. I’ve written about that here. I call this strategy The Monster with Three Eyes.

But there’s a fourth strategy too. Force individual staffing agency workers to arbitrate these claims instead of pursuing them in court, and include class action waivers with the agreement to arbitrate.

There are two ways to introduce arbitration agreements with class waivers in your staffing agency agreements.

First, you can mandate that staffing agencies sign arbitration agreements with their own employees. Some courts have found that arbitration agreements between a staffing agency and its employee protect the third party business too, even if the third party hasn’t signed the agreement.

But that approach carries risk. The agency’s arbitration agreement might be poorly written, or it might include terms that make it unenforceable. Your protection is only as good as whatever form agreement the agency presents to their workers.

There’s a second approach I like better. It goes like this:

  • Draft your own individual arbitration agreement (with class waiver) for staffing agency workers to sign, requiring them to arbitrate any claims against you. Make it mutual, of course.
  • Append it to the staffing agency agreement as an exhibit.
  • Include a clause in the staffing agency agreement requiring the agency not to assign anyone to your business unless they’ve first signed this agreement.

The agreement will be short. No more than two pages. It can also include an agreement by the agency worker to protect your confidential information and assign inventions.

If the document is properly characterized as an offer by your business, accepted by the worker, you have offer plus acceptance equals contract — even if your business doesn’t sign it. There is specific language you can include that can make that work.

So if you use staffing agency workers, don’t assume you won’t get sued as a joint employer. You particularly want to avoid class and collective actions, and this type of arbitration agreement will do the trick.

Plan for bad weather in advance. Include this layer of protection with your staffing agency agreements. Consider it your own little iguana jacket.

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© 2022 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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New Year’s Resolutions: 5 Tips for Avoiding Trouble in 2022

Last spring in Poland, a menacing brown object appeared in a tree. Locals grew concerned about the mysterious beast and closed their windows. After a few days it was still there, and a call was placed to the local animal welfare society.

The authorities responded to the call and arrived on the scene to investigate. The citizens were relieved to learn it was not a bird of prey, a dangerous rabies-infested rodent, or a trapped pet. It was a croissant.

Somebody probably threw it into the tree while trying to feed birds.

The locals were likely embarrassed, but better safe than sorry. When in doubt, take steps to avoid problems. Be proactive.

Here are five tips to start off the new year the right way, with or without arboreal baked goods:

1. Review and revise your agreements with staffing agencies. Make sure you include The Monster with Three Eyes and these other clauses. Consider requiring all individual workers to sign arbitration agreements, and don’t forget the impact a choice of law clause may have.

3. Self-audit your use of independent contractors to determine whether these relationships are defensible. Here’s a tip for quickly identifying the riskiest relationships.

2. Review and revise your agreements with independent contractors. Add safe harbor clauses if you do business in WV or LA. Remember these rules, akin to discomfitting a bear.

4. Create a gatekeeper system so that managers and procurement team members cannot retain non-employee labor without first going through a designated individual. You can’t guard against the risks you don’t even know about.

5. Check your website for references to independent contractor relationships. Don’t refer to your contractors as “our whatevers” or “our team of whatevers.”

Remember, to those who say they haven’t been sued for misclassification, I say you haven’t been sued yet.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2022!

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© 2022 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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Don’t Get Stuck Naked: Tips for Enforceable Arbitration Agreements When Using Staffing Agency Workers

He was in here. Really. Source: Syracuse Fire Dept Facebook

A Syracuse man was rescued from inside the walls of a historic theater last month after spending two days trapped, naked. The man apparently had entered the building’s crawlspace (why?) and fell from the ceiling into a gap between walls in the men’s restroom. No word on why he was au naturale.

But I’m sure he was glad to be freed from this unexpected situation. He should have planned better — like by not hiding in a crawlspace or, if he had a really, really good reason to hide there, by at least wearing clothes.

You can protect your business from unexpected situations (different ones), such as by making sure your staffing agency agreements include valid arbitration clauses with the staffing agency’s workers. The goal here is to avoid being left naked and stuck, if faced with a joint employment claim.

In a recent Oklahoma case, two staffing agency workers sued the staffing agency and the company where they provided services, alleging a failure to pay overtime.

The company where they worked filed a motion to compel arbitration, arguing that the arbitration agreement the workers signed with the staffing agency should cover all claims against both defendants. The district court initially ruled that the arbitration agreement was only between the worker and the staffing agency, and so it could not be relied upon by the other company. Motion denied.

But the Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding that the non-signatory company could enforce the agreement because the plaintiffs’ claims “allege substantially interdependent and concerted misconduct” against the two defendants. The plaintiffs were therefore “estopped from avoiding their duty to arbitrate their claims arising out of their employment relationship.”

That was good news in this case, but I wouldn’t count on that result every time. This case turned on Oklahoma estoppel law. But with proper planning, you can achieve the same result.

Here’s how:

First, in your agreement with staffing agencies, require the agencies to have all individuals assigned to perform services at your company sign an individual arbitration agreement.

Second, make sure it’s not just any old arbitration agreement, but one that includes customized terms. For example:

  • Require the worker to acknowledge that signing is a condition to being placed at your company.
  • Make sure the scope of covered claims is broad enough to include claims that are not just against the staffing agency.
  • List your company as a third party beneficiary with authority to enforce the agreement.
  • Make the obligation to arbitrate bilateral and binding on your company, even though your company will not sign the agreement. In other words, if you agree to perform services at the company, the company will agree to arbitrate any claims against you.

There are a few more tricks of the trade, but these are some of the key items. Keep the agreement short, and use simple language.

With some careful advance planning, you can avoid being left naked and stuck if faced with a joint employment lawsuit filed by staffing agency workers.

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© 2021 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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No Bull! A California Court May Have Just Broken the Background Check System for Employees and Independent Contractors

If background checks were run on bulls, you probably wouldn’t hire Bodacious for rides at your child’s next birthday party. Bodacious has been described by some in the bull riding community as the meanest, most dangerous bull that ever was.

Fortunately, the identity of bulls with a history of violence is readily attainable, probably through some kind of bull riding database available to those in the industry. Or wikipedia.

When it comes to identifying humans with a history of violence, we can run criminal background checks. We do this for employee applicants and often for independent contractors. When using staffing agencies, we ask the agencies to run background checks for their employees before sending them to perform services onsite at our businesses.

Except that a recent Court of Appeal ruling in California may have just broken the criminal background check process throughout the state.

In a case called All of Us or None, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled that it violates the California Rules of Court, Rule 2.507(c), for Superior Courts to maintain criminal case databases that are searchable by date of birth or driver’s license number.

Wait, what?

If you want to run a criminal background check, you need additional identifying information such as date of birth or driver’s license number. There are thousands of people with identical surnames and similar sounding full names. According to mynamestats.com, there are 81,585 Californians with the surname Gomez, and 5,277 of them are named Maria Gomez. Check out this map to go down a state-by-state rabbit hole. Background check companies need additional identifying information to make sure they’re reporting on the right person.

Rule 2.507(c) says that certain types of information must be excluded from “court calendars, indexes, and registers of actions.” Taking a waaaay-broad interpretation of this rule, the Court of Appeal held that the “excluded” categories can’t be used at all, not even when searching for criminal records. Other “excluded” categories of information include such important differentiators as ethnicity, age, and gender. The Riverside Superior Court, defending the legality of its searchable database, argued that Rule 2.507(c) is intended to prevent people from searching for the excluded information in a database, but it cannot possibly be intended to prohibit searches when the searcher already knows that information.

The Court of Appeal disagreed.

Under federal law, a background check company must maintain reasonable procedures to ensure that the information they report is accurate. Using names alone would obviously produce absurdly unreliable results. Just ask anyone named Maria Gomez. Most Maria Gomezes are undoubtedly wonderful people and don’t want their background check reports to show that some other Bad Maria got into criminal trouble. But if a background check company cannot use important identifying and differentiating information it already knows to help verify someone’s identity and criminal record, how can it provide reliable reports in California at all?

I’m not sure how that’s gonna work. Leave it to California to break the whole background check system. We’ll see if the courts and background check companies find a way around this.

Meanwhile, if you’re running background checks in applicants or independent contractors in California, expect some delays, thanks to this ruling. And if you’re planning to have livestock at your child’s next birthday, may I suggest a pony?

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© 2021 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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“Who Was That Masked Man?” It Could be Your Independent Contractor.

who was that masked manFrom 1949 to 1957, The Lone Ranger ruled the airwaves. As recounted in the all-knowing wikipedia: “At the end of each episode, mission completed, one of the characters would always ask the sheriff or other authority, ‘Who was that masked man?’ When it was explained, ‘Oh, he’s the Lone Ranger!,’ the Ranger and Tonto would be seen galloping off with the cry, ‘Hi-Yo, Silver! Away!’ catching the attention of one of the townspeople crossing the street.”

Today, the answer to “Who was that masked man?” is likely to be, “Oh, he’s the lone maintenance guy on third shift” or “Oh, that’s Wilbur, our accountant.”

With many states now requiring employees and customers to wear face coverings, should the same be required of your company’s independent contractors? If you require contractors to wear face coverings, is that the type of control that could weigh in favor of employee status?

The practical answer is that, as the nation tries to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, it’s a good practice to require everyone who works onsite — employees, customers, and independent contractors — to wear face coverings. The use of face coverings can be made mandatory as a condition of entering your facility. That is a site safety measure, not evidence of control that would convert your contractor to an employee.

But what about when the contractor works remotely, perhaps interacting with customers or working independently offsite? In that case, follow common sense and any applicable state and local law. For independent contractors who work on their own or in their homes, it’s probably not necessary to impose any specific face covering requirement. But that doesn’t mean they should freely expose their titillating chins and lips to the adoring masses. In your contracts with independent contractors, it is always wise to require that they comply with all applicable laws when performing any part of the services. That catch-all requirement is going to capture whatever face covering rule applies in that state at that time. The contractor should be required to do whatever the state or local law requires. Different states have different requirements.

What about staffing agency workers who work onsite? Can you safely impose the same face covering requirements on them as with your W-2 employees? Yes, and you should. Anyone working in your facility needs to comply with the applicable state and local work rules. That includes staffing agency workers at your location.

When the popular show’s run ended, Clayton Moore, who played the Lone Ranger, used to make public appearances in his distinctive mask. But in 1979, the Wrather Corp., which owned the rights to the character, sued Moore to make him stop wearing the mask in public. Moore reverted to wearing green-tinted sunglasses with his cowboy outfit, hardly an acceptable substitute for our heroic roughrider.

In 1985, the Wrather Corp. relented and allowed Moore to again don the mask. As he told the Los Angeles Times in 1985, “Playing the Lone Ranger made me more considerate of my fellow man.”

In today’s COVID-19 climate, you can follow the Lone Ranger’s ethos and require face coverings. It’s a small gesture that will make you more considerate of your fellow man.

Hi-yo!

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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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When 500 Isn’t Necessarily 500: How to Count Employees Under the Families First Law

As you know by now, the Emergency FMLA and Emergency Paid Sick Leave provisions in the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act apply only to employers with fewer than 500 employees. But lots of questions have arisen about how to count.

For those who need help counting, here’s a helpful resource:

But for those of you counting employees instead of bats, let’s try this instead.

Question #1:  Do temps count? 

Answer:  Are we talking about feelings here? Because if we are, then everyone counts. You’re a winner! And you’re a winner! And you’re a winner!

Ah, but do they count toward the 500-employee threshold under Families First? Well that depends on whether they are joint employees of your business and the staffing firm.

As of last year, the answer for staffing agency temps was most often yes. But in January 2020, the DOL changed the test for how to determine whether someone is a joint employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). While there are different tests for determining joint employment, the one that matters for the Families First law is the FLSA test.

You can read more about the new DOL test here.

Question #2: Do part-timers count?

Answer: Yes. Count all part-time and full-time employees. Part-timers are people too. See, Feelings, Morris Albert (1975). Skip to 0:45 if you want to skip the instrumental intro.

Fun fact: In the late 80s, when you were arguing with your friends over which is the best Duran Duran song (answer: none), French songwriter Loulou Gaste successfully sued Albert for plagiarism, persuading a jury that Albert based the song on Gaste’s 1957 chart-topper “Pour Toi.”

Question #3: Do you aggregate employees across multiple subsidiaries?

Answer: Generally no. The default is that each subsidiary is its own employer. Divisions of a single subsidiary are aggregated.

But there are some situations when subsidiaries are aggregated. A conglomerate consisting of several different subsidiaries can a “single integrated employer,” in which case, you add the numbers together. We determine “single integrated employer” status by looking at four main factors:

  • Common management;
  • Common ownership;
  • Centralized control over labor relations and personnel; and
  • Interrelation of operations.

The more there exists common control, there more likely there is a single employer. There are many subfactors that also go into the analysis, and the most important factor tends to be centralized control over labor relations and personnel.

This is a difficult analysis, and there can be consequences to being a single integrated employer that go beyond Families First. If you think this applies to your company, proceed cautiously and seek legal advice.

Question#4: If I’m stuck home because of coronavirus, where can I find more helpful videos featuring The Count?

Answer: Ummm … this is where I sign off.

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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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Nothing on TV? Read Your Contract to See If There’s a COVID-19 Exception

covid-19 force majeure

Now that everything fun is banned and workplaces are sending people home, I’m planning to spend next week getting hernia repair surgery on Wednesday. Then I’ll take it easy watching baseball NCAA basketball the NBA tennis Netflix the second part of the week.

Or so I thought. Yesterday I learned that all non-essential surgeries are likely going to be cancelled. So it may be back to work. Or home to work. Or some variation of work. I think the hernia and I will continue our relationship for a while longer.

Where does this leave you with independent contractors and staffing agency contracts?

COVID-19 is creating conditions we never anticipated, and the work to be performed by contractors or staffing agency workers may be unnecessary — or impossible.

Are you still on the hook to pay them? The answer lies within your contract. There are a few ways performance may be excused.

  1. Force majeure or impossibility clauses. Force majeure is French legalese that means, literally, “Bad stuff happens if people eat bats and pangolins.” I’m not real good at French, so I could be off slightly. But it’s close. These are the boilerplate provisions most people never read. It’s time to read them. We now have states of emergency declared, pandemic status, CDC Level 2 and 3 travel restrictions, and mandatory quarantines in various parts of the world. Any of these events may be sufficient to trigger the force majeure or impossibility clause in your contract, if there is such a clause. Most of these clauses will not be so specific as to address pandemics, but terms like “Acts of God” or similar language might suffice. These clauses generally aren’t expected to list every contingency that would trigger excusing performance. A global pandemic seems likely to fit — if the conditions make performance impossible. A general business downturn that results from the virus might not be enough.
  2. Termination without cause. A force majeure clause is probably unnecessary if performance can be cancelled without cause, either at will or after a short notice period. This may be the time to issue notice.
  3. Modification or renegotiation. Your contractor or staffing agency may be as unprepared or as unwilling to perform as you are. It’s time to have a discussion — preferably by phone or while maintaining social distancing. A side letter in which both sides agree to modify the contract may be in order.
  4. No obligation to perform. If your contract is a master services agreement, performance might not be required. Check your work orders, and maybe all you need to do is modify or terminate those.

In the meantime, consider opening that bottle of wine you’ve been saving and starting a good book. We all need to make the best of a bad situation, and Cabernet can help.

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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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Who Pays for Reasonable Accommodations to Staffing Agency Workers? Ask Shorty.

Limb lengthening reasoable accommodation

Suppose you’ve got a staffing agency worker (we’ll call him Shorty) who’s a bit vertically challenged and is self-conscious about it. He tells you he’s gonna need some time off because he found this:

A limb-lengthening clinic in Las Vegas claims it can make you a few inches taller through minimally invasivce surgery. According to this article on OddityCentral.com, here’s how it works:

“We cut the leg bones – either femur (upper leg bone) or tibia (lower leg bone) – and insert a device that slowly stretches them out which makes you taller permanently.”

“I insert a device that responds to an external remote control that the patient will control at home. Once the device is set, I place screws at the top and bottom of the device to lock into position. This is done on each leg.”

The doc says you then just press a button at home and you’ll stretch by 1 mm a day. Just like nature intended.

So, back to Shorty. Suppose he has this surgery one weekend and comes back to work a bit achy from all the stretching. He wants some extra breaks to get him off his feet. Or he wants you to provide him a stool so he can rest more often from his station on the assembly line. Do you have a reasonable accommodation obligation?

If you’re in HR, you know that weird stuff happens, so maybe you hadn’t considered limb-lengthening, but let’s use this as an excuse to think about relationships with staffing agency workers and what your obligations might be for medical issues.

This is unlikely to be a disability situation, unless Shorty’s stature is due to a medical condition. But you’ll undoubtedly have staffing agency workers who do have disabilities and who do need reasonable accommodations.

That brings us to today’s Tip of the Day:

Consider adding to your staffing agency contracts a clause requiring the agency to pay the expenses for any reasonable accommodations provided to qualified staffing agency employees to allow them to perform their job functions.

Accomodations can sometimes be expensive, and it’s not unforeseeable that staffing agency workers will need accommodations at some point. Plan ahead, and build this contingency into the contract.

A clause like that may lengthen your contract a bit, but this lengthening can be done in a sentence or two — with no surgical intervention, no cuts in your femur or tibia, and no insertion of a stretch button in your leg. That’s the kind of lengthening I’d be much more inclined to try. I’ll leave my limbs just the way they are.

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© 2020 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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