When Are Shareholders Also Employees? (Disney-Themed Version)

When are shareholders considered employees

I have always believed that in the song made famous by Happy, Dopey, Sneezy and friends, they were saying “Off to work we go,” but I just checked a few sites for lyrics and the lyrics all show the dwarves singing, “It’s home from work we go.” Can this be true? Have I been mixed up all these years about which way the dwarves were going to dig dig dig with a shovel or a pick?

Work can be confusing. A non-cartoon-dwarf scenario that can be confusing is trying to determine whether shareholders in a business are also employees of that business. In today’s post, we examine that question by celebrating the 15th anniversary of a 2003 Supreme Court case. (Happy Anniversary, case! 🎂)

Like many tests for determining Who Is My Employee?, this one comes down to control and the familiar Right to Control Test.

In Clackamas Gastroenterology Associates, P. C. v. Wells, an employee of this Oregon-based medical clinic tried to sue for disability discrimination under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). To bring claim under the ADA, though, the plaintiff must show that her employer has 15 or more employees.

The clinic had four owner/shareholders who were also physicians. If they were also employees, then the clinic had 15 employees and Ms. Wells could pursue her ADA lawsuit. If these physicians were just shareholders and not employees, then the clinic had fewer than 15, and Ms. Wells would be SOL.

The dispute made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court ruled that the proper way to determine whether the physician/shareholders counted as employees was to apply a Right to Control Test. But which version?

The standard Right to Control Test tries to distinguish between an employee and an independent contractor. Because the question here is a bit different, the test had to be adapted to fit the situation.

The Court decided that these six factors were most important for deciding whether the physician/shareholders were also employees:

1. Whether the organization can hire or fire the individual or set the rules and regulations of the individual’s work;
2. Whether and, if so, to what extent the organization supervises the individual’s work;
3. Whether the individual reports to someone higher in the organization;
4. Whether and, if so, to what extent the individual is able to influence the organization;
5. Whether the parties intended that the individual be an employee, as expressed in written agreements or contracts; and
6. Whether the individual shares in the profits, losses, and liabilities of the organization.

Like the traditional Right to Control Test, this is a balancing test. Some factors may weigh in one direction, some may tilt the other way. Ultimately, a judge (or jury) needs to weigh the factors and make a determination.

In this case, the Supreme Court did not do the weighing. Instead, it articulated the test and sent the case back to the Oregon district court to weigh the factors.

So for Ms. Wells, the case left the Supreme Court and went back to the federal court in Oregon. And so the real question is: For Ms. Wells after the Supreme Court’s ruling, was it “off to court we go” (headed back to Oregon) or “home from court we go” (leaving D.C.)? I bet she never thought about that.

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

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Court Expands Use of ABC Test in California, Commits Candy Land Party Foul

Dynamex ABC Test Candy Land

Suppose you are dominating an important game of Candy Land, having picked the orange card first, which gave you the privilege of taking Rainbow Trail across half the board to a distant purple square, leaving your toddler opponent in tears, whining, “No Fair!” Well, your toddler would be wrong since that was perfectly fair and within the rules. But you feel bad for young Timmy and so you allow him to change the rules mid-game so that no one can use Rainbow Trail, forcing you to plod slowly across all the regular squares, bored to tears because this stinking game takes forever.

Sometimes we make exceptions for bratty toddlers, but in real life it’s no fair to change the rules in the middle of the game. You may have built your entire Candy Land strategy around trying to pick the Orange square card first. It’s not fair to block you from Rainbow Trail after the game has started.

The same is true in business. Businesses hire employees or retain independent contractors according to the rules in place when they make those decisions.

An important ruling last week threatens to change the Independent Contractor vs. Employee rules midway through the game — but this is no game.

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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.

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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.

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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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