Free Smells! Jimmy John’s Avoids Franchisor Joint Liability

Joint employment jimmy john’s overtime litigation

The famous bank robber Willie Sutton supposedly once said that he robs banks “because that’s where the money is.” I doubt he said that since it seems rather incriminating. (“I’m sorry, your honor. What I meant is ‘If I did it…” See, Simpson, O.J.). But that’s the legend anyway. You can read more here on whether it’s true.

The strategy for plaintiffs in overtime cases is much the same. Sue the deepest pockets. That’s where the money is. When the deepest pocket is not your employer, allege joint employment.

That’s what happened in the recent overtime lawsuit against some Jimmy John’s franchise owners (the direct employers) and the franchisor (corporate Jimmy John’s). The lawsuit is cleverly titled In Re: Jimmy John’s Overtime Litigation. Like many lawsuits, the case has dragged on for four years. It has not been freaky fast.

Finally, in late June, a federal judge in Illinois ruled that — under the facts of this case — the franchisor is not a joint employer and cannot be responsible for any overtime violations.

In franchise situations, joint employment is a serious concern. When you order the #14 Bootlegger Club, you expect it to taste the same at every Jimmy John’s store. That’s the essence of franchising. An individual business owner signs a franchise agreement granting it the right to use a company’s intellectual property and requiring it to use the company’s business format and brand standards. The court summarized the Franchise Agreement like this:

The Franchise Agreement provides the franchisee with the license to use Jimmy John’s Intellectual Property, as well as the Jimmy John’s business format, which includes the methods, procedures, signs, designs, layouts, standards, and specifications for Jimmy John’s branded stores. In exchange, Jimmy John’s franchisees are obligated to: (1) make payments to Jimmy John’s, specifically, a certain percentage of their gross sales as a royalty and a separate percentage as a contribution to a national advertising fund; and (2) uphold the “Jimmy John’s Brand Standards” that are essential to the quality and consistency of the Jimmy John’s customer experience.

Does that uniformity make the franchisor a joint employer? The court here said No, but only after four years of intensive discovery as to the level of involvement the franchisor has in the terms and conditions of employment for franchisee employees.

Different courts use different tests for determining whether someone is a joint employer. In the Seventh Circuit (which includes Illinois), the standard for whether someone is a joint employer under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is: “A joint employer relationship exists where each alleged employer exercises control over the working conditions of the employees.”

The court then tried to answer that question by applying a four-part test, analyzing whether the franchisor:

(1) had the power to hire and fire employees,

(2) supervised and controlled employee work schedules or conditions of payments,

(3) determined the rate and method of payment, and

(4) maintained employment records.

The court acknowledged that other factors could be considered, but these were the most important.

Dear reader, allow me to interrupt this compelling tale with a reminder about our legal system: Not helpfully, different courts will use different factors to determine whether there joint employment under the FLSA (and courts in the Fourth Circuit will apply a different test entirely). So this test might or might not apply to you.

The court extensively analyzed these factors and ruled that the franchisor was not a joint employer because it did not involve itself in the day-to-day individual employment decisions would be required to find joint employment. (If you want more detail, you can read the decision here or a more extensive analysis by my colleague Greg Mersol here.)

The franchise model remains under attack. The International Franchise Association has been active in trying to promote reform of the U.S. joint employment standard. They want a test that helps assure franchisors that they can sign franchisees without subjecting themselves to lawsuits any time the individual business owners make employment law errors.

Efforts are underway in Congress to pass clarifying legislation, and the NLRB is beginning the process to change the standard through rulemaking, but none of this will happen freaky fast.

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

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What Do Rabbits, Swedish Massage, and this Misclassification Study Have in Common?

Independent contractor miscalssification study Georgia State UniversityAccording to the DailySignal.com, the National Institute of Health recently spent $387,000 to determine the health effects of Swedish massage on rabbits. I have not read the study, but I independently conclude that the massages were relaxing and helped to decrease some of the daily stresses faced by small burrowing mammals.

And that brings us to a study being conducted at Georgia State University, partially funded by a similarly wasteful $250,000 grant from the Department of Labor. It’s a study on independent contractor misclassification.

The study is examining 12,000 federal court decisions between 2008 and 2015 to try to determine “the ways in which federal district courts draw the line between employee and independent contractors.” Using text mining and big data tools, the study hopes to uncover “the legal tests that courts used [and] the factors that exerted the most influence on judges’ decisions.”

This is dumb.

This is like watching 12,000 baseball games to try to figure out why umpires sometimes call runners out and sometimes call runners safe. We don’t need to watch 12,000 baseball games to figure that out. We can just look at the rule book instead. The rules explain how to determine when the runner is safe or out. The rules tell you the factors to look at.

Misclassification law works the same way. There are different rules that apply to different laws in different states in different circumstances. When a misclassification claim arises, we just have to look at the proper rule, which tells us the factors to consider. Then we look at the facts and apply the rule and the factors.

The point is, we already know the rules. And we already know the factors. They’re in the rules. We don’t have to examine 12,000 cases to try to reverse engineer the rules and the factors. Just look them up.

Perhaps my frustration is misplaced. Maybe they’ll uncover something new. I doubt it. Meanwhile, I am still thinking about whether it’s even possible to massage a rabbit.

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

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Inspired by Animal House? NLRB May Force Long-Term Change to Joint Employment Test

Screen Shot 2018-05-12 at 2.00.26 PM

“What? Over? Did you say “over”? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!” —Bluto

The Republican-majority NLRB has been trying to figure out how to overturn the Browning-Ferris joint employment standard without running into conflicts of interest. It tried in December 2017, when it set a new test in Hy-Brand, but then backed off a few months later after allegations that Member Emanuel had a conflict of interest and should not have participated. The Browning-Ferris test went back into effect.

Two members of the Board come from large law firms and may face allegations of conflicts of interest if they vote to overturn Browning-Ferris.

But did you say it’s over? Nothing is over until we decide it is!

The Board announced last week that it is not giving up. Instead, it is planning a new way for changing the joint employment test. This plan, if successful, may mean a new test that is not subject to flip-flopping every time the NLRB majority flip-flops between Ds and Rs (as it does whenever there’s a new President from the other party.)

The new plan involves crafting a rule through the administrative rulemaking process. Sounds boring (and it is). The tedious rulemaking process includes issuing a public notice of the proposed new rule and a comment period.  Then, the Board gets to ignore any negative comments and adopt the rule.

The process takes time, but like a tiny water bacterium with a funny name, the new rule would be sticky.

From livescience.com: The tiny water bacterium Caulobacter crescentus secretes a sugary substance so sticky that just a tiny bit could withstand the pull from lifting several cars at once. With an adhesive force of nearly five tons per square inch, this “glue” is one of nature’s strongest.

The new rule would actually go in the books as a regulation, which future Board members would be obligated to follow.

It’s a sound strategy if it works.

The new rule would presumably resemble the rule the Board tries to enact in the Hy-Brand decision, which makes it much harder to show that a business is a joint employer. The new test presumably would require “joint control over essential employment terms” and would require control that is “direct and immediate,” not “limited and routine.”

For businesses that use other vendors’ workers (such as staffing agencies) and face the risk of being named a joint employer, this is an important development. Keep an eye on this one.

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

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California’s New Killer Bee: How Should Businesses Deal with Part B of California’s New Independent Contractor Test?

California ABC test Dynamex Killer Part BAccording to pestworld.org, Africanized honey bees have been known to chase people for more than a quarter mile once they get excited and aggressive. This is why they earned the nickname “killer bee.”

In its recent Dynamex decision, the California Supreme has introduced its own Killer B into California wage and hour law. This new Killer B could make plaintiffs’ lawyers excited and aggressive, chasing down businesses that use independent contractors and filing lawsuits alleging they are really employees. Those lawsuits could really sting!

Today we look at two questions: What is the new Killer Part B, and what do businesses need to know about it?

What’s the Issue?

Several states now use ABC Tests to determine whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor, at least under certain state laws. California joined the party with its 4/30/18 Supreme Court decision (Dynamex), adopting an ABC Test to determine who is an employee under most of California’s wage and hour laws.

Part B of the new California test can be difficult to meet. To be a true independent contractor, the worker must be performing work that is outside the hiring party’s “usual course of business.” We’ll call this a Strict ABC Test.

Some states have a more forgiving version of an ABC Test, allowing Part B to be satisfied if the worker performs the services either outside the usual scope of business or off of the hiring party’s premises. New Jersey, Illinois, and Connecticut use the more forgiving test. We’ll call that version the Standard ABC Test.

What’s the Concern with Part B in California’s New Test?

Part B can be hard to meet.  Lots of workers who are otherwise independent contractors will be considered employees because of Part B — especially under a California-style Strict ABC Test. If the type of services being provided are within the hiring party’s “usual course of business,” the worker must be treated as an employee under California’s wage orders.

Although this Strict ABC Test is new to California employers, it’s not new to multi-state employers. Massachusetts has been using a Strict ABC Test for its wage and hour laws since 2004, when it passed the Massachusetts Independent Contractor Law. In 2008, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office issued an advisory memo on its interpretation of the law, especially Part B.

What Can We Learn From Massachusetts?

The key to success under Part B is establishing that the contractor’s services are outside of the “usual course” of your business. That means the contractor does something that your business doesn’t do.

Companies should consider taking steps to define more precisely its “usual business,” and then memorialize that in multiple ways — internally, externally (website: About Us page?), and contractually in agreements with independent contractors.  Keep in mind the importance of differentiating between the scope of what your business does and the scope of what the independent contractor will be doing.  If you want to satisfy Part B, these things should be different.

You may need to define the scope of your services more narrowly. For example, if your business sells appliances but retains independent contractors to install them, you might take steps to define the scope of your business as “selling appliances but not installing them.” Consider adding language to your contracts, website, and other documents to make this distinction clear.

This is just one of many strategies that businesses in California and Massachusetts should be prepared to implement. Being proactive is the key to avoiding claims of independent contractor misclassification. Evaluate and modify your independent contractor relationships and contracts now, not after you have been sued.

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

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What is California’s new ABC Test, and What Does It Mean for Businesses?

Dynamex ABC test california

What just happened?

Last week, we reported here on the California Supreme Court’s Dynamex decision. Today’s post takes a deeper dive.

In Dynamex, the California Supreme Court adopted one of the strictest tests in the nation for determining whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. The new test is used to determine whether a worker is an “employee” under California’s Industrial Wage Commission (IWC) wage orders. The wage orders require “employees” to be paid minimum wage and overtime, and to receive meal and rest breaks (unless exempt). Under this new test, a lot of independent contractors might now be “employees.”

The new test is an ABC Test. Unlike the balancing tests that start with the scales set equally, the new Dynamex ABC Test begins with the presumption that any worker performing services for your business is your employee. Guilty until proven innocent.

To overcome that presumption, the business must meet all three prongs of the new ABC Test. To prove that the worker is an independent contractor (and that the California wage orders do not apply), the business must be able to show:

(A) the worker 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, and
(B) the worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business, and
(C) the worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business.

If the business fails to meet all three prongs of this test, the worker is an employee for purposes of the wage orders. Case closed. Done deal. The other factors don’t even matter.

What does that mean? You must provide the worker a minimum wage, overtime, and meal and rest breaks (subject to exemptions, if applicable). It doesn’t matter that you have an Independent Contractor Agreement, and it doesn’t matter if the worker agrees to be an independent contractor status. (Here’s why.)

What was the basis for the California Supreme Court’s decision?

The Court’s decision was based on its analysis of the definition of “employ” under the IWC wage orders. The Court concluded that this definition was intended to cover a broader range of relationships than common law employer-employee relationships.

The wage orders define employ as “to engage, suffer, or permit to work.” This language originated in 1916, with the passage of state laws designed to prevent the exploitation of child laborers. The idea was that if you allow children to work for you, you are going to follow certain legal requirements. To prevent funny business, an intentionally broad definition of “employ” was used.

Those familiar with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) will recall that it too uses a broader definition of “employ” than most other federal laws. The FLSA definition of employ is “to suffer or permit to work.” That sure sounds a lot like the California definition, so shouldn’t California just apply the same Economic Realities Test as used to determine whether someone is an employee under the FLSA? Oh, my dear sweet naive friend, that would be too simple. And California doesn’t like simple.

The California Supreme Court went out of its way to point out that California came up with its language first and that it never intended to follow the FLSA test. Really, it says that. So there.

In Dynamex, the California Supreme Court concluded that where the definition of “employ” is “to engage, suffer, or permit to work,” the intent is to cover a broader range of individuals than common law employees and, from now on, the way to determine whether someone is an “employee” under the “engage, suffer, or permit to work” standard is to apply the new ABC Test. The IWC wage orders use this broad definition, and so the wage orders will now apply to any relationship where an individual provides services, unless all three prongs of the ABC Test are met.

But why change now?

If you are asking yourself why the test would change now — when that same definition has been in place for 102 years, when there has been no new law passed by the California legislature, and when no new regulations have been enacted — the answer is what you tell your kids when you’re too tired to explain why: Because I said so.

Really. The Court just said so. Nothing in the law has changed. The new, strict ABC Test did not come from a new law. It came from Massachusetts. Thank you, Massachusetts. Next time just send lobster rolls.

What about the other wacky California employment laws?

Most California employment laws use a more traditional definition of employee, not the broad “engage, suffer, or permit to work” definition. Under these other laws, therefore, the test for determining whether someone is an employee is (we think) unchanged. For the most part, the S.G. Borello test should continue to apply.

The S.G. Borello test stems from a 1989 California Supreme Court decision and is a hybrid Right to Control/Economic Realities balancing test.

Under S.G. Borello, the primary question is whether the hiring party retains the right to control the worker, both as to the work done and the manner and means in which it is performed. If yes, the worker is an employee. If it is unclear, then secondary factors are considered.

Secondary factors include:

1. Whether the person performing services is engaged in an occupation or business distinct from that of the principal;
2. Whether or not the work is a part of the regular business of the principal or alleged employer;
3. Whether the principal or the worker supplies the instrumentalities, tools, and the place for the person doing the work;
4. The alleged employee’s investment in the equipment or materials required by his or her task or his or her employment of helpers;
5. Whether the service rendered requires a special skill;
6. The kind of occupation, with reference to whether, in the locality, the work is usually done under the direction of the principal or by a specialist without supervision;
7. The alleged employee’s opportunity for profit or loss depending on his or her managerial skill;
8. The length of time for which the services are to be performed;
9. The degree of permanence of the working relationship;
10. The method of payment, whether by time or by the job; and
11. Whether or not the parties believe they are creating an employer-employee relationship may have some bearing on the question, but is not determinative since this is a question of law based on objective tests.

The court or agency then mixes all of these factors into a witch’s cauldron, blends them together, sprinkles in a pinch of eye of newt, waits for the smoke to clear, and then declares that, based on an analysis of the multiple factors, the worker must be an … (insert answer here). The S.G. Borello test is a balancing test, subject to interpretation. It’s gray.

California does have some other strict tests. The Dynamex ABC Test is not the only one. For example, strict tests apply in the construction industry and for the performance of work where a license is required but not obtained. Under those scenarios, like under IWC wage orders, it’s much harder to maintain independent contractor status than it is under a law that applies the S.G. Borello test.

What about federal laws? Do those still apply too?

Hahahahahahaha! You bet they do! Employers in California are still required to follow the FLSA, which determines whether someone is an employee by using an Economic Realities Test. Yes, lucky California business owners, this means your worker could be an employee under the strict ABC Test imposed by Dynamex and therefore subject to California minimum wage and overtime rules; but, at the same time, the same worker might be a legitimate independent contractor under the Economic Realities Test and therefore not subject to federal minimum wage and overtime law. Well that’s confusing.

Right to Control Tests govern the determination of whether someone is an employee under federal tax law, anti-discrimination law, and employee benefits law. As we discussed here, it’s certainly possible to be an employee under one law but an independent contractor under another law.

With the introduction of the strict Dynamex ABC Test, that will happen more often, ensuring full employment for lawyers like me.

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

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California’s Top Court Creates New Test for Independent Contractor vs. Employee, Re-Interprets 102-Year Old Definition

horse race dynamexA three-way horse race can be exciting. As the finish line gets closer, each horse seems to dig deeper and find a little extra something to try to pull ahead. (Or gets whipped. Whatever. Stay with me here.)

It’s been a nail-biter over the past several years, with California, New Jersey, and Massachusetts competing to see which state could create the most difficult test for maintaining independent contractor status in wage and hour cases. For years, courts have used an Economic Realities balancing test for determining Independent Contractor vs. Employee status under federal wage and hour law. Most states apply a variant of that test or apply a Right to Control Test for determining Who Is My Employee? under their wage and hour laws.

In 2004, however, the Plymouth Rockers surged ahead, passing a law that used an ABC Test to determine whether someone is an employee or an independent contractor under Massachusetts’ minimum wage and overtime laws. ABC Tests make it harder to prove that a worker is truly an independent contractor (and not an employee), as we’ll see in more detail below. In 2015, the Home of Bruce Springsteen pushed forward, with the New Jersey Supreme Court requiring businesses to Prove It All Night and adopting an ABC Test for its state wage and hour laws.

Poor California was left behind. (No Surrender?) The state that birthed the Eagles and Hotel California did not rewrite its wage and hour laws and did not adopt an ABC Test. Finding no help from the legislature, the California Supreme Court took it upon itself April 30th to whip the Golden State forward, creating a new ABC Test in its 82-page Dynamex decision.

Let’s be clear about what just happened:

  • There’s no new law.
  • There’s no new regulation.
  • There’s no new executive order.

In fact, the definition of “employ” that this decision is based upon has been the same since Year 4 of the Woodrow Wilson presidency.

But now, despite none of those things changing, there’s a new test — at least for wage and hour claims that are covered under California IWC wage orders.

An ABC Test sets a higher bar than a Right to Control Test or an Economic Realities Test. It also sets a higher bar than California’s S.G. Borello test, which is a hybrid Right to Control/Economic Realities Test that has been in place since 1989.

California’s new ABC Test starts with the presumption that, for claims covered under California wage orders, every worker is an employee. Then, to prove otherwise, the business retaining that worker must prove (all 3):

(A) the worker 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, and 

(B) the worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business, and 

(C) the worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business.

Fail just one part, and the worker is an employee under California wage and hour law. This new test is even stricter than most other states’ ABC Tests, which usually include two ways that Part B can be satisfied.

The new Dynamex test applies only to claims brought under California wage orders. These claims generally include minimum wage, overtime, and meal and rest break claims. This test does not apply to claims such as failure to reimburse expenses or failure to provide employee benefits.

Good luck out there!

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

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Go Carts or Bumper Cars? NLRB Asks Court to Fix Its Browning-Ferris Blunder

Browning-Ferris joint employment go cartThe two most fun activities at amusement parks (aside from skee-ball) are Go Carts and Bumper Cars. This is scientific fact. Go Carts are fun because you can go fast, weave around, and drive in circles — all without getting honked at. Bumper Cars are fun because, well, you get to bump people.

The NLRB seems stuck on the Go Cart track, going round and round, when it would rather be in the Bumper Cars.

Last week, we reported on the Board’s sudden decision to vacate its important Hy-Brand decision, issued in December 2017. Hy-Brand was important to businesses because the decision restored sanity and workability to the NLRA’s test for joint employment.

But by vacating the Hy-Brand decision, the dreadful Browning-Ferris standard went back into effect, Continue reading