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. These two administrative interpretations sought to expand the definition of employee, thereby increasing the possibility of misclassification cases, and, as some argued, expanding the concept of joint employer under the Fair Labor Standards Act. While this is a welcomed announcement for employers, the Department emphasized in the release that the withdrawal “does not change the legal responsibilities of employers under the Fair Labor Standards Act.” This is the first effort by the Department of Labor under the Trump administration to dismantle some of the more controversial policies issued by the Department in the Obama-era. The decision to withdraw these administrative interpretations may also signal that the Department intends to return to the opinion letter writing process, making compliance much simpler for employers.
The issue of whether workers are properly classified as independent contractors rather than employees is a common dispute in the gig economy, particularly in newer, technology-based industries, such as ride-sharing.
That issue just became a much simpler one in Florida: On May 9, 2017, Florida’s governor signed into law a bill that, among other things, establishes that drivers for companies such as Lyft and Uber—called “transportation network companies” or “TNCs” under the law—are independent contractors, not employees, as long as the company satisfies four conditions:
Across the country, worker misclassification issues continue to be a significant risk for employers. One hot button issue is whether workers in newer, technology-based industries, such as ride-sharing, are properly classified as independent contractors rather than employees. Last week, an appellate court in Florida considered whether Uber drivers are properly classified as independent contractors or employees for purposes of benefits under Florida’s unemployment insurance statute.
On July 15, 2015, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued guidance which it claims is designed to reduce the misclassification of employees as independent contractors under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). This guidance boldly claims that “most workers are employees under the FLSA’s broad definitions.” Based on this guidance, the DOL will likely aggressively argue that workers are employees subject to the FLSA – not independent contractors.
A recent decision from the California Labor Commissioner’s Office found that a former Uber driver was an employee of the company, not an independent contractor as the firm has labeled its motorists. The implications for Uber, as well as other companies with similar business models, could be far-reaching.
In Euchner-USA, Inc. v. Hartford Cas. Ins. Co., No. 13-2021-cv, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 10797 (2d Cir. June 10, 2014), the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found that an insurer must defend its insured in a case alleging ERISA violations because the facts alleged (as opposed to the embedded legal conclusions) created a reasonable possibility of coverage under the general liability policy’s employee benefits coverage part. Central to the court’s decision was its finding that Euchner’s alleged misclassification of the plaintiff as an independent contractor rather than an employee arose from the Euchner benefit plan’s administration, thereby bringing the allegedly improper conduct within the scope of the policy’s employee benefits coverage.
A 2-1 California Court of Appeal held on October 17 that drivers for a food service provider did not have to arbitrate their state statutory claims brought under the California Labor Code despite a binding arbitration agreement covering the “application or interpretation” of the driver agreements. The drivers alleged that their employer, Mike Campbell & Associates, misclassified them as independent contractors, denying them wage law protections under the California Labor Code, and was thus liable for nonpayment of wages, illegal deductions, and recordkeeping violations. Rather than challenge the trial court’s ruling that they were bound by the arbitration clause, the drivers argued that their statutory claims did not arise out of the arbitration agreement and thus did not require an interpretation of the arbitration clause.
In an update to a recent article posted in July, the California Supreme Court agreed on October 10 to hear Patterson v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC, a sexual harassment case in which the court will decide whether a franchisor can be held liable for the acts of an employee of one of its franchisees. The case comes before the court after an appeals court found that Domino’s exerted enough control over the employees of Sui Juris, its franchisee, for it to be potentially liable for sexual harassment.
If the high court affirms the appellate court’s decision, franchisors could be vulnerable to a broader range of liability than they currently face.
In Patterson v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC, the California Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s order granting summary judgment to a franchisor and held that the terms of the franchise agreement did not necessarily govern whether the franchisor could be held strictly liable for the actions of an employee of the franchisee.
On October 9, 2011, California Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 459, legislation that creates new and significant civil penalties for employers that misclassify employees as independent contractors. The newly enacted Section 226.8 of the California Labor Code authorizes civil penalties under two circumstances: (1) “Willful misclassification of an individual as an independent contractor;” and (2) “Charging an individual who has been willfully misclassified as an independent contractor a fee, or making any deductions from compensation, for any purpose . . . .” In either case, the “person or employer” responsible for the violation “shall be subject to a civil penalty of not less than five thousand dollars ($5,000) and not more than fifteen thousand dollars ($15,000) for each violation, in addition to any other penalties or fines permitted by law.” Moreover, if there is a determination that a person or employer has engaged in “a pattern or practice” of violations, “the person or employer shall be subject to a civil penalty of not less than ten thousand dollars ($10,000) and not more than twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000) for each violation.”