Dynamex and the Independent Contractor Landscape

A friend and colleague, Alan Foster, asked me to write an article for his newsletter regarding independent contractors under Dynamex. I’ve seen articles, presentations and blog posts about the dramatic shift in the law regarding independent contractor versus employee tests. I have a slightly different take. The following is my take on the independent contractor landscape.

Dynamex and the Independent Contractor

Many legal professionals and business advisors are writing about the California Supreme Court “dealing a blow” to independent contractors. Different articles claim Dymanex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Courtmakes it more difficult” for employers to classify workers as independent contractors. Many are calling it a “game changer.” But is it really?

Dynamex, a package delivery company, hired delivery drivers to deliver packages. Although Dynamex initially hired the drivers as employees, in 2004 Dynamex changed the drivers to independent contractors. Dynamex believed it provided drivers sufficient freedom it could safely classify the workers as independent contractors. The delivery drivers filed a class action lawsuit seeking unpaid wages and expenses, claiming they were really employees.

The employees claimed that under Martinez v. Combs (2010) 49 Cal.4th 35, Dynamex was the employer. Dynamex argued that Martinez only applied in the joint-employer situation and that the common law test set out in S. G. Borello & Sons, Inc. v. Department of Industrial Relations (1989) 48 Cal.3d 341 should apply.

In Martinez, the court adopted a very broad definition of employer based on the IWC orders.

“[t]o employ . . . under the [wage order], has three alternative definitions. It means:

(a) to exercise control over the wages, hours, or working conditions, or

(b) to suffer or permit to work, or

(c) to engage, thereby creating a common law employment relationship.”

Borello and the Independent Contractor

In Borello, decided 21 years before Martinez, the court focused primarily on “whether the person to whom services is rendered has the right to control the manner and means of accomplishing the result desired.” The court also looked at nine other factors:

(1) right to discharge at will, without cause;

(2) whether the one performing the services is engaged in a distinct occupation or business;

(3) 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;

(4) the skill required in the particular occupation;

(5) whether the principal or the worker supplies the instrumentalities, tools, and the place of work for the person doing the work;

(6) the length of time for which the services are to be performed;

(7) method of payment, whether by the time or by the job;

(8) whether or not the work is part of the regular business of the principal; and

(9) whether or not the parties believe they are creating the relationship of employer-employee.

In a very lengthy (85 pages) opinion, the Dynamex confirmed that Martinez and Borello applied in the independent contractor arena. And the court adopted a new test to determine whether someone was “suffered or permitted” to work. This new test is being called the “ABC test.”

Under the ABC test, a worker is an employee unless the hiring entity establishes:

(A) that the worker is free from the control and direction of the hirer in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of such work and in fact;

(B) that the worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business; and

(C) that the worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed for the hiring entity.

Is This Really a New Test for the Independent Contractor?

Since this is a new test, that means this is a “game changer,” right? Not necessarily. Anyone who has gone through an EDD audit is familiar with the ABC test already. The Employment Development Department has a very useful, although not employer-friendly, test for determining whether someone is an independent contractor. The questions in the DE-38 contain the same factors that make up the ABC test.

Under the DE-38, if the employer answers “yes” to the first three questions, “it is a strong indication that the worker is an employee.” If the employer answers “no” to the next three questions, this “indicates that the individual is not in a business for himself or herself and would, therefore, normally be an employee.” Answering “yes” to the final seven questions on the DE-38 means there is a “greater the likelihood the worker is performing services as an employee.”

So, how does the ABC Test compare to the DE-38? This chart shows the ABC test elements line up directly with the DE-38 test:

ABC Test DE-38
(B) that the worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business 3. Is the work being performed part of your regular business?

 

(C) that the worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed for the hiring entity 4. Does the worker have a separately established business?
(A) that the worker is free from the control and direction of the hirer in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of such work and in fact 5. Is the worker free to make business decisions which affect his or her ability to profit from the work?

One aspect of the ABC test arguably not in the DE-38 is that the hiring entity must establish each of the three factors in the ABC test. The DE-38 uses phrases such as “strong indication” and “normally,” allowing more leeway than the more definitive ABC test.

The ABC test is less a “new” independent contractor test, and more an application of an existing test that many employers ignored. I have been advising my clients against hiring workers as independent contractors unless the workers have their own established business and the workers are performing work not part of the company’s normal business. Dynamex confirms the conservative approach is the right approach, particularly in California.

Original article by Robert E. Nuddleman of Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C.

Feel free to suggest topics for the blog. We are happy to consider topics pertaining to general points of Labor and Employment Law. We cannot answer questions about specific situations or provide legal advice over the Internet. If you desire legal advice, you should contact an attorney.

Using this blog does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. Using the Internet or this blog to communicate with the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Do not post confidential or time-sensitive information in this blog. The Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. cannot guarantee the confidentiality of anything posted on this blog.

The Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. represents employers and employees in a wide range of employment law matters. Much of his practice focuses on wage and hour issues, such as unpaid overtime, meal and rest break violations, designing or enforcing commission plans, and other wage-related claims. He also advises employers on how to avoid harassment and wrongful termination claims, and represents employees who have been victims of unlawful discrimination, retaliation or harassment. The Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. helps employers develop good employment policies, and helps employers and employees with disability accommodation issues.

Labor Commissioner Audits Can Be Expensive

Labor Commissioner audits can be time consuming and expensive. Just ask Kome Japanese Seafood & Buffet, Burma Ruby Burmese Cuisine, and Rangoon Ruby Burmese Cuisine. The restaurants and their owners are facing a hefty bill after their audits.

Expensive Labor Commissioner Audits

California’s Department of Industrial Relations announced the Labor Commissioner cited seven Bay Area restaurants more than $10 million for “wage theft violations.” The restaurants included Kome Japanese Seafood & Buffet, Burma Ruby Burmese Cuisine, and Rangoon Ruby Burmese Cuisine.

The Labor Commissioner’s Office launched the investigation after receiving complaints from workers who reported wage theft to the Asian Law Caucus. The Asian Law Caucus also represented many of the workers who cooperated in the investigation.

The wage theft violations and civil penalties cited in the Labor Commissioner Audits include:

  • Failure to pay minimum wage,
  • Overtime
  • Split shift premiums,
  • Illegal counting of tips received as part of the minimum hourly wage,
  • Waiting time penalties, and
  • Pay stub violations.

Many of the overtime violations resulted from employees paid a salary who worked 50 or more hours each week.

Labor Commissioner Audits Include Individual Corporate Owners

The citations are against the corporations and LLCs as well as the owners and members of the companies. Being incorporated does not prevent personal liability for wage theft claims. Labor Code section 558.1 provides:

Any employer or other person acting on behalf of an employer, who violates, or causes to be violated, any provision regulating minimum wages or hours and days of work in any order of the Industrial Welfare Commission, or violates, or causes to be violated, Sections 203, 226, 226.7, 1193.6, 1194, or 2802, may be held liable as the employer for such violation.

Other Labor Code sections also allow the Labor Commissioner to cite individual owners.

David Tai Leung, Wendy Lai Ip, Jun Zheng, Gang Zhou, Bai Dong Zhang and Tiffany Leung, owners of the corporations Kome Japanese Seafood Buffet, Inc. and Koshi Food Service, Inc., are ordered to pay the 133 workers at Kome Buffet $4,381,461 in unpaid wages, premiums and liquidated damages, as well as civil penalties of $780,400.

Max Lee and John Lee, owners of Rangoon Ruby Investment LLC and Burma Ruby Investment LLC, have been ordered to pay their 298 workers $4,394,118 for unpaid wages, premiums, liquidated damages and itemized wage statement violations, and civil penalties of $574,150

The press release did not indicate whether the restaurants will appeal the citations, or how much the Labor Commissioner will actually collect.

I represent employers in Labor Commissioner audits. The audits can be time-consuming and result in serious assessments. Seemingly small mistakes can have serious consequences, and the appeal rights are somewhat limited. Employers receiving notice of an audit should speak with counsel as soon as possible. Properly preparing for an audit can reduce the exposure.

The best way to prevent an audit, or at least make it through an audit unscathed, is to review your policies with a knowledgeable attorney before a problem arises. If you have a question about your wages or employment practices, contact the Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C.

Original article by Robert E. Nuddleman of Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C.

Feel free to suggest topics for the blog. We are happy to consider topics pertaining to general points of Labor and Employment Law. We cannot answer questions about specific situations or provide legal advice over the Internet. If you desire legal advice, you should contact an attorney.

Using this blog does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. Using the Internet or this blog to communicate with the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Do not post confidential or time-sensitive information in this blog. The Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. cannot guarantee the confidentiality of anything posted on this blog.

The Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. represents employees and businesses throughout Silicon Valley and the greater San Francisco Bay Area including Pleasanton, Oakland, San Ramon, Hayward, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Los Altos, San Jose, the South Bay Area, Campbell, Los Gatos, Cupertino, Morgan Hill, Gilroy, Sunnyvale, Santa Cruz, Saratoga, and Alameda, San Mateo, Santa Clara, San Benito, Mendocino, and Calaveras counties.

Rare Pay Stub Victory for Employers

Employers in California know payroll can be particularly troublesome. Attorneys representing employees routinely file lawsuits and PAGA actions based on inaccurate or incomplete pay stubs. I previously discussed the ease with which employees can bring PAGA actions for unintentional pay stub violations that cause no harm. The Second Appellate District came out with a rare win for employers trying to handle pay stubs correctly.

Pay Stub Claims

In Canales v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., the company paid non-exempt employees a monthly, quarterly and/or annual bonus. The employees earned the bonus throughout the month/quarter/year. When paying the bonus Wells Fargo recalculated and paid overtime owed on the bonus. Wells Fargo issued pay stubs with the bonus listing the “incremental additional overtime paid to the employee for overtime hours worked during the bonus period.” No hourly rates or hours worked were identified on the pay stubs.

Additionally, in some situations when an employee was terminated, payroll would issue a cashier’s check immediately for all wages earned. Payroll mailed the pay stub the following day.

Former employees sued claiming:

  1. The pay stubs violated Labor Code section 226(a)(9) because it did not list “all applicable hourly rates in effect during the pay period and the corresponding number of hours worked at each hourly rate by the employee” and
  2. The pay stubs mailed the day after termination violated Labor Code section 226(a) which requires pay stubs to be provided “semimonthly or at the time of each payment of wages.”

In the published portion of the decision, the court rejected both claims.

Bonus Pay Stub Did Not Have to List All Hours and Rates When the Bonus was a Supplement to Previously Paid Hours

Wells Fargo argued there were no “applicable hourly rates in effect during the pay period” that corresponded to bonus payments. Therefore, defendant did not have to provide such information on the pay stub.

The court discussed “the nature of nondiscretionary bonuses and how they relate to overtime pay under the Labor Code.”

The court confirmed, “nondiscretionary bonuses are considered part of the ‘regular rate of pay’.” The court also confirmed an employer must “allocate the bonus over the period in which it was earned” in order to calculate overtime pay. Hourly employees earn a quarterly bonus throughout the quarter. If the employee worked some overtime hours to earn the bonus, the employee is entitled to overtime premium pay on the bonus. The employer must divide the bonus by the total hours worked to calculate the “regular rate of pay” on the bonus. The employee is then entitled to an additional 0.5 times the regular rate of pay for the overtime hours.

The court concluded that the overtime on the bonus:

represented additional wages that were earned as overtime pay based on nondiscretionary bonuses being spread over the hours worked during the bonus period. Moreover, based on how OverTimePay-Override was calculated, the overtime hours were worked in previous pay periods for which employees had already received their standard overtime pay. The itemized wage statement issued by an employer need only provide the applicable hourly rates and the corresponding number of hours worked “in effect during the pay period.” In other words, the employer need only identify on the wage statement the hourly rate in effect during the pay period for which the employee was currently being paid, and the corresponding hours worked.

It is important to note that the court’s conclusion is based solely on how the bonus plan worked in this instance. Different bonus plans–such as weekly bonuses–would be treated differently. The case will be useful to employers that pay monthly, quarterly or annual bonuses provided the employees previously received pay stubs showing the hours worked and rates paid during the pay period.

Final Pay Stub Can be Mailed to Employees, as Long as it is Furnished at Least Semi-Monthly

Defendant contended it furnished the pay stub as required under section 226 by mailing it to the terminated employee’s last known address either the same day or the next day. Plaintiffs asked the court to follow the Labor Commissioner’s manual where it said:

“[a] California employer must furnish a statement showing the following information to each employee at the time of payment of wages (or at least semimonthly, whichever occurs first),” and section 14.1.2, which provides, “[s]ection 226 . . . sets out the employer’s responsibilities in connection with the wage statement which must accompany the check or cash payment to the employee.”

The court agreed with the employer. The court noted the Labor Code requires the pay stub to be provided at least semi-monthly or at the time the wages are provided. The legislature did not include the “whichever is first,” language cited by the Labor Commissioner.

This could result in interesting situations. For example, an employer could pay an employee every week but only provide pay stubs twice a month. I have no idea why an employer would do that, but employers do strange things sometimes.

Canales v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. represents a rare win in the wage and hour arena. I don’t know that the cases will result in fewer lawsuits. It will hopefully provide guidance to employers and employees regarding some of the pay stub issues employers face.

If you have questions about your pay stubs or your pay practices, Robert Nuddleman has been representing employers and employers in wage and hour matters for over two decades. Contact the Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. today for a reduced rate consultation.

Original article by Robert E. Nuddleman of Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C.

Feel free to suggest topics for the blog. We are happy to consider topics pertaining to general points of Labor and Employment Law. We cannot answer questions about specific situations or provide legal advice over the Internet. If you desire legal advice, you should contact an attorney.

Using this blog does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. Using the Internet or this blog to communicate with the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Do not post confidential or time-sensitive information in this blog. The Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. cannot guarantee the confidentiality of anything posted on this blog.

The Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. represents employees and businesses throughout Silicon Valley and the greater San Francisco Bay Area including Pleasanton, Oakland, San Ramon, Hayward, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Los Altos, San Jose, the South Bay Area, Campbell, Los Gatos, Cupertino, Morgan Hill, Gilroy, Sunnyvale, Santa Cruz, Saratoga, and Alameda, San Mateo, Santa Clara, San Benito, Mendocino, and Calaveras counties.