Independent Contactors

Seyfarth Synopsis: With apologies to Dr. Seuss, we’ve penned an ode to the judicial chaos of the year just past, highlighted by three California Supreme Court decisions—Alvarado v. Dart Container Corp., Dynamex Operations v. Superior Court, and Troester v. Starbucks Corp.—all of which deviated from federal or common law norms to create more new cal-peculiar law that is friendly to plaintiffs and hostile to California business. Happy New Year!

The California Supremes, as we so often hear it,
rarely leave an employer in holiday spirit.

2018, alas, gave much more of the same,
placing employers behind in the game.

There were many new laws and decisions to weigh,
but here are just three to ruin management’s day:

At the beginning of March, to make business irate,
the Court changed how to figure the regular rate.

Flat-sum bonus calculation? Just tear it to shreds!
California proclaims, “We are not like the feds.”

Instead of dividing the bonus by all hours each week,
Just use the straight time, a division so bleak.

Important for employers seeking lawful abidance
is carefully following our regular-rate guidance.

The California Supremes continued their way,
wreaking more havoc just before May:

On April 30, Two Thousand Eighteen,
they continued their pro-plaintiff’s lawyer routine.

The Court issued a much anticipated decision,
inventing new law to some widespread derision.

Is one independent, or instead employee?
The Court says it’s simple as A, B, and C.

To be independent under wage order sections,
the worker must be free from control and directions.

Also a hirer must always enforce
that the work be beyond business’s usual course.

And also the work must be usually made
in some independent business or trade.

The decision is one we’re happy to share;
it should be considered with the utmost care.

Then in mid-summer, near end of July,
the California Supremes made still more of us cry.

In dissing a doctrine—de minimis time—
the Court found the federal law out of line:

Leeway for small stray time cannot be afforded
where high-tech can see that all time is recorded.

Advice that to us now seems rather quite sage
is to make sure all the work time is paid as a wage.

You have our best wishes this holiday season;
call us for advice for some employment-law reason.

For all who agree California law’s strange,
we will help in adopting all needed change.

On April 30, 2018, the California Supreme Court issued a long-awaited opinion in which it considered which test should be used to decide whether a worker asserting claims under a California Wage Order is an employee or an independent contractor.  The following Seyfarth One Minute Memo summarizes the case and what it means for employers.

Seyfarth Synopsis: The California Supreme Court, in Dynamex Operations v. Superior Court, held that “engage, suffer or permit to work” determines employee status for Wage Order claims, requiring a defendant disputing employee status to prove (A) the worker is free from control and direction of the hirer in connection with performing the work, both under contract and in fact; (B) the worker performs work outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business; and (C) the worker customarily engages in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed for the hirer.

The Trial Court Decision

Delivery drivers Charles Lee and Pedro Chevez sued Dynamex Operations West for unlawfully classifying them and 1,800 other drivers as independent contractors. To argue that they were really employees, they cited California’s Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Order No. 9. Their motion for class certification argued that, under Martinez v. Combs (2010), they were employees in that Dynamex knew that they provided services and had negotiated their rates. The trial court certified a class. Dynamex petitioned the Court of Appeal for a writ of mandate.

To view the full alert, please click on the link below:

http://www.seyfarth.com/publications/OMM050118-LE

Seyfarth Synopsis: From Mark Zuckerberg to the mayor of Stockton, the concept of Universal Basic Income is catching fire. What is this newfangled concept, and what can employers expect in the new emerging economy?

UBI – What Is It?

Universal Basic Income—“UBI”—is a form of social security, or a citizen’s stipend, to ensure everyone with a basic income from the state. The idea is to provide a basic degree of economic security: the recipient need not work or look for work, and the payment would come regardless of the individual’s other income. Countries like Finland and Canada have started to test UBI programs in certain jurisdictions, with some success.

Although the idea of UBI dates all the way back to the 18th century, the idea has received a lot of attention and support recently. Numerous Silicon Valley big game players have embraced the concept. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame advocated for the concept during his Harvard commencement speech in 2017. Elon Musk of Tesla fame is another big supporter, opining recently that “we’ll end up doing universal basic income. It’s going to be necessary.”

Why has the concept been so revitalized? It all comes down to the future emerging job market. Elon Musk was very clear on this point: “there will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better. I want to be clear. These are not things I wish will happen; these are things I think probably will happen.” Indeed, back in March 2017, former President Barack Obama warned Congress that several reports found that as much as 50% of jobs could be replaced by robots by 2030. If that truly is the case, the diminished capacity for human workforce will leave many people without a job, and therefore without any other form of income.

Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration

It all seems very futuristic and distant—until we realize that UBI is already being tested right here in California! And, where better than in Stockton, California? Stockton has already faced great economic difficulty: as a city plagued by a loss in job opportunities and low wages, it even had to declare bankruptcy in 2012.

Beginning in the second half of 2018, the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED) will pay $500 a month to a few hundred lower-income individuals. The money will come with absolutely no strings attached and will originate from the Economic Security Project (an organization aiming to raise awareness on UBI in the United States).

Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, Stockton’s youngest mayor in history, has been a prominent supporter of the program, seeing it as a way to alleviate some of the poverty pains the city has been experiencing with the growth of Silicon Valley and an increasingly heavy reliance on automation. The hope is to track the benefits of the distributions and use this as a pilot program for potentially expanding its use in other areas of California. Indeed, this hot topic of UBI is regularly discussed already by California state legislators and by gubernatorial candidates in California’s 2018 election.

What Does It All Mean?

Should we all just kick our shoes off and wait for the money to roll in? Probably best not to. UBI is meant to provide some security, but is in no way meant to replace working entirely. The program is just in its initial testing stages, and it is impossible to predict with any assurance the benefits and costs of running a UBI program on a larger scale.

Some studies indicate that people receiving a UBI would likely keep some form of employment, or take on part-time work. Indeed, researchers found that rather than decreasing employment, in areas using UBI, people in part-time work increased by a significant 17%. Like the surge of independent contractors in the new and emerging “gig economy,” employers could see a shift in the type of workers, particularly in low-wage positions that UBI tends to affect, and their expectations for benefits, flexibility, and pay.

Workplace Solutions:

So what should we do? In the emerging futuristic world we live in, keep an eye on the future of work. Team Seyfarth will keep an eye out and keep you abreast of this bizarre new world. Check out our wonderful future employer initiative. Meanwhile, if you have any queries, your friendly Seyfarth attorney is always happy to be your guide.

Edited By: Coby Turner

Seyfarth Synopsis: The California Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday morning in Dynamex Operations v. Superior Court, a case addressing the legal standard for determining whether a worker should be classified as an independent contractor or an employee. We expect the Supreme Court’s opinion will be significant for any entity using independent contractors in California.

The Story Thus Far

As outlined in a previous blog article, the decision in Dynamex Operations v. Superior Court will be extremely important for all companies that use independent contractors, especially those in the emerging “gig economy.” Misclassifying workers can have painful consequences, involving not only liability for unpaid wages and employee benefits but also statutory penalties for each violation considered “willful.”

The Issue

In agreeing to review the case, the California Supreme Court defined the issue on appeal as to whether, in a misclassification case, a class may be certified based on the expansive definition of employee as outlined in the Wage Order language construed in Martinez v. Combs (2010), or on the basis of the common law test for employment set forth in S. G. Borello & Sons, Inc. v. Department of Industrial Relations (1989). In short, the Supreme Court focused on whether to continue using the Borello test and on what test, if any, to apply instead.

The definition of employment identified in the Wage Orders is broader than the prior common law test. The Wage Orders define “employ” broadly to mean “to engage, suffer or permit to work.” In contrast, Borello focuses instead on a multi-factor balancing test that depends on the unique facts of each situation and that is more likely to recognize the existence of an independent contracting relationship.

Oral Argument

Dynamex Operations Goes First

In its opening argument, Dynamex praised the Borello test as a tried and true California rule and warned against the danger that uncertainty in the classification of workers would pose to California’s booming “gig economy.” Dynamex raised concerns with any judicial adjustment to the definition of employment that would usurp the legislature role.

Justice Kruger, however, wondered whether judicial adoption of a bright-line rule would not be more instructive for employers, and suggested, as a possibility, adopting the ABC test followed in such jurisdictions as New Jersey and Massachusetts. The ABC test says that three conditions must all concur for a worker to be an independent contractor: (1) freedom from actual control over the work, (2) work beyond the usual course of business and off company premises, and (3) engaging in an independent trade. Unless A, B, and C all concur, then the worker is an employee.

Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye raised an additional response to Dyanamex’s plea to leave this issue to the Legislature: if the ABC test is a stricter version of the Borello test, then why should the Supreme Court be precluded from adopting a new version of the test to ensure clarity in enforcement when, after all, it was the Supreme Court that had adopted the Borello test in the first place? Finally, Justice Kruger and Dynamex had a robust discussion about adopting a modified rule, where the ABC test would govern for some Labor Code provisions, but a different test may apply to others. Dynamex opined that this result would be confusing for employers and might result in individuals being employees for some purposes but independent contractors for others.

Aggrieved Independent Contractors Respond

In their responsive argument, the workers portrayed what they saw as the sorry plight of California independent contractors. The workers called independent contracts the new “serf-class”: people who work hard while receiving none of the Labor Code’s basic employee benefits. They argued that the Supreme Court should adopt a new, broader definition of employee to protect workers from harm. The workers seemed open to several outcomes, including (a) a broader definition for some Labor Code provisions, (b) the definition outlined in the Wage Orders, or (c) any other new employment test  that the Supreme Court might come to favor.

Justice Liu seemed skeptical about a broader test. He referred to an “Amazon Analogy.” Although most people know Amazon sells goods online, many people also view Amazon Prime (with its delivery services) as within Amazon’s usual course of business. Justice Liu then asked: if the Supreme Court were to adopt a strict interpretation of the ABC test, at what point would Amazon be considered a shipping business, meaning that all drivers who ship Amazon Prime goods would be employees of Amazon under the second ABC prong? This analogy caught the attention of Justices Cuellar and Justice Chin, who both seemed to appreciate how complicated, and blurry, a new test could be.

Dynamex Makes A (Brief) Comeback

In its rebuttal, Dynamex took up Justice Liu’s “Amazon Analogy” to argue why a flexible test is needed to ensure just results. Two Justices followed up. The first was Justice Liu, who asked whether other jurisdictions have applied the ABC prongs strictly. The second was Justice Chin, who closed oral argument with a pointed question that represents the concerns of many observers: which employment test best fits the modern economy? Dynamex responded that the body of developing case law as well as the uniformity of Borello’s application has suited California well and that it provides all of the factors needed to fully determine employment relationships.

Our Crystal Ball

Although one cannot read the minds of seven justices, we sense the Supreme Court will likely reject the call to leave this matter for the Legislature and will lean instead toward a judicially fashioned test that, in the view of most justices, will best fit the needs of the modern economy. The Supreme Court’s decision is expected within the next 90 days.

As always, we will remain vigilant and on the scene. Look for more updates about this case as they come out and in the meantime do not hesitate to reach out to your friendly neighborhood Seyfarth attorney for guidance or with any questions you might have.

in·de·pen·dent adjective \ˌin-də-ˈpen-dənt\

1: not dependent: as a (1) : not subject to control by others

con·trac·tor noun \1 usually ˈkän-ˌtrak-tər, 2 usually kən-ˈ\

1: one that contracts or is party to a contract: as a : one that contracts to perform work or provide supplies

Two words with straightforward meanings; at least one would think. But put those words together—“independent contractor”—and their meaning in the workplace context is often anything but clear. Applying the independent contractor label carelessly can lead to a world of trouble.

Whether workers are properly designated as independent contractors, rather than employees, depends on a host of factors. The pivotal factor is whether the principal controls the manner and means of accomplishing the desired result.

Manner and Means: Determining The Level Of Control Exerted

If I offered to pay you to deliver something to a particular place before a particular time––say the ceremonial ball to Times Square by New Year’s Eve 2014––but I gave you no additional instructions, you would be free to choose the manner and means you used to get the ball there. Your route could be circuitous, or direct, as long as the ball arrived at the location before the deadline. You could mail it, carry it on a bus, drive it by car, fly it in a plane, or take it by boat.  You could, theoretically at least, hire a mule team to take you and the ball to New York. Or, you could avoid the hassle altogether and pay a friend to do it. Continue Reading Blurred Lines: When Manner Meets Means