Seyfarth Synopsis: Companies marketing through social media are likely familiar with social media influencers like the Kardashian/Jenners in cosmetics, DanTDM in gaming, and Kayla Itsines in fitness. California companies using the services of such influencers must be mindful, as always, of California peculiarities when it comes to classifying these individuals as contractors

Seyfarth Synopsis: The DLSE enforces California labor laws. In two recent enforcement actions, the DLSE collectively recovered over one million dollars, so California employers should read on to find out more about this robust administrative agency.

What Is The DLSE And Why Should Employers Care?

The California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (aka the

Seyfarth Synopsis: The California Supreme Court, in Dynamex Operations v. Superior Court, has agreed to address the legal standard for determining whether a worker classified as an independent contractor is really an employee. The Supreme Court’s opinion is expected to be significant for anyone thinking of using independent contractors in California.

The Future of

By Catherine Dacre, Emily Barker, and Matthew Mason

One would think that an employee would prefer being deemed a “professional.” But when faced with the possibility of receiving additional income, employees often argue to the contrary, claiming that their classification as a “professional” is incorrect.

Under both California and federal law, so-called “white collar” employees, including “professional” employees, are exempt from wage and hour laws concerning overtime payment and breaks. That is, if an employee meets the test for exemption, the employer pays her a set salary, rather than on an hourly basis, and is not required to pay overtime or provide meal and rest breaks, among other things.

However, employers must take care. If an employee who has been classified as exempt later successfully argues that she does not meet the professional exemption, the employer will be on the hook for unpaid overtime going back, potentially, for four years. Plus, the employer may face additional penalties for any missed meal and rest breaks (at a rate of one additional hour of pay per break), failure to keep accurate records, failure to issue accurate wage statements, and, for terminated employees, penalties that accrue each day (up to 30 days) during the time the employee was not paid all she was owed.

Such suits will likely only become more popular in the near future. In March of this year, President Obama issued a memorandum directing the Department of Labor to streamline overtime regulations and make more workers eligible for overtime under federal law. Specifically, he asked the Department to consider how the professional exemption could be simplified to address the changing nature of the American workplace.

So, What Makes A Professional A “Professional”?

The answer to this question is complex, and is different under California law and federal law. As such, an employee may meet the test for the professional exemption under federal law, but fail to meet the test under California law.

In addition, the answer varies depending on whether the employee works in a certified profession, or whether the employee is an artist, writer or in another creative field. Generally, the criteria depend on the types of work the employee does, the level of education or training required to perform the work, and the employer paying at a specified salary threshold.

Types of Work:

Federal Law: Under federal law, an employee is properly classified as an exempt professional when the primary duty is the performance of work requiring “advanced knowledge,” defined as work which is predominantly intellectual in character and which includes work requiring the consistent exercise of discretion and judgment.

The “advanced knowledge” must be in a field of science or learning, and must be customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction.

California Law: In California, an employee may be an exempt professional in one of three ways:
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Say most of your company’s workers are employees, but for certain types of work you bring in independent contractors.  You have been doing this for years, and everybody in your industry handles this kind of work the same way.  You have nothing to worry about, right?

Not necessarily.  Employers use independent contractors instead of employees for a variety of reasons and under a variety of circumstances.  The decision to use independent contractors has never been without risk, including the risk of class action lawsuits.  However, the stakes in California for misclassifying independent contractors were raised significantly when new Labor Code sections 226.8 and 2753 became effective on January 1, 2012.  In addition to possibly having to pay the worker as an employee for past labor (including paying back employment taxes and maybe overtime wages), you now have to be concerned about the potential for additional civil penalties.

Willful Misclassification:  California Labor Code Section 226.8 makes it unlawful to “willfully” misclassify individuals as independent contractors.  “Willful misclassification” means avoiding employee status for an individual by voluntarily and knowingly misclassifying that individual as an independent contractor. This section also makes it unlawful to charge a willfully-misclassified contractor a fee or to make any deductions from compensation for any purpose, including for goods, materials, space rental, services, government licenses, repairs, equipment maintenance, or fines.

  • What are the consequences?  The penalties for violations of Section 226.8 are steep, ranging from $5,000 to $15,000 per violation (as determined by a court or the Labor and Workforce Development Agency (“LWDA”)), in addition to any other fines or penalties permitted by law.  But that’s not all.  If a court or the LWDA finds that the employer has engaged or is engaging in a “pattern and practice” of violating Section 226.8, the employer is subject to a civil penalty of not less than $10,000 and not more than $25,000 per violation.  It is not difficult to see how these penalties can add up very quickly.
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