Employee/Independent Contractor Status

The First Appellate District’s recent decision in Subcontracting Concepts, LLC v. DeMelo, A152205 (April 10, 2019) applies well-established unconscionability principles to an arbitration agreement signed by an employee of an independent contractor. The doctrine of unconscionability refers to an absence of meaningful choice with respect to the terms of a contract, usually the result of unequal bargaining power between the parties.
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On May 2, 2019, the Ninth Circuit ruled in Vazquez v. Jan-Pro Franchising International, holding that the new independent contractor test established by the California Supreme Court in its 2018 decision in Dynamex v. Superior Court applies retroactively to franchisors. As a result of this decision, employers and franchisors who have classified workers as independent contractors may see an increase in wage and hour class actions alleging that the workers are or have been misclassified. Additionally, the decision has serious implications for any California companies that operate under a franchise business mode
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As anticipated and previously reported, the Republican-controlled Board is overturning Obama-era rulings. For example, in a recent decision, SuperShuttle Inc. DFW, Inc. (16-RC-010963), the National Labor Relations Board affirmed the Board’s adherence to the traditional common-law agency test.  This decision overrules the NLRB’s 2014 Decision, FedEx Home Delivery, 361 NLRB No. 65, which had modified the NLRB’s long-standing test for independent contractor status.
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In a rare win for plaintiffs seeking to avoid arbitration, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a trucking company’s attempt to compel arbitration in a driver’s proposed minimum wage class action.  The Court held that the Federal Arbitration Act’s exemption for interstate transportation workers applies not only to employees, but also to those classified as independent contractors. 
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As we wrote about last month, on May 21, 2018, the Supreme Court rendered its decision in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, 138 S. Ct. 1632 (2018), rejecting perhaps the largest remaining obstacles to the enforcement of class action waivers in arbitration agreements in the employment context.  The Court concluded that the class action waivers did not violate the National Labor Relations Act.  Although the Court’s opinion also seemed dispositive of whether such agreements could be avoided under the Fair Labor Standards Act, at least one claimant tried to continue to litigate the issue, which was disposed of last week in Gaffers v. Kelly Servs., Inc., No. 16-2210 (6th Cir. 2018).  And now the Sixth Circuit has addressed whether Epic Systems would apply to arbitration agreements with putative independent contractors who contended that they should have been treated as employees.
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Andrea Mickles filed a complaint against her employer Country Club Inc., alleging it had violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by improperly classifying her and other employees as independent contractors and failing to pay them minimum wage and overtime.  She filed her case as a collective action, and others opted into the case before any ruling on conditional certification. 
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The California Supreme Court has adopted a new three-part test to determine whether a worker is an independent contractor or an employee under California’s wage orders, which regulate wages, hours, and working conditions.  The highly anticipated ruling could have wide ranging effects for businesses operating in California and beyond, as companies try to navigate the new gig economy. 
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Recently the National Labor Relations Board invited interested parties and amici to submit briefs in Velox Express, Inc. to address under what circumstances, if any, the Board should deem an employer’s misclassifying statutory employees as independent contractors constitutes a violation of Section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act.  Briefs from parties and interested amici must be submitted on or before April 16, 2018.
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In a press release issued this morning, the Department of Labor has announced that it is withdrawing two administrative interpretations issued by the Department of Labor under the Obama administration in 2015 and 2016 relating to misclassification of independent contractors and joint employment.
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