On Monday, April 30, 2018, the California Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in the matter of Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court of Los Angeles. In a voluminous, 82-page decision, the California Supreme Court reinterpreted and ultimately rejected the Borello ( S. G. Borello & Sons, Inc. v. Department of Industrial Relations, 48 Cal. 3d 341) test for determining whether workers should be classified as either employees or independent contractors for the purposes of the wage orders adopted by California’s Industrial Welfare Commission (“IWC”) in favor of a worker-friendly standard that may upend the existing independent contractor labor market.
In particular, the Court embraced a standard presuming that all workers are employees instead of contractors, and placed the burden on any entity classifying an individual as an independent contractor of establishing that such classification is proper under the newly adopted “ABC test” which will be discussed in further detail. The question of whether an individual worker should be classified as an employee or independent contractor has considerable significance for workers, businesses, and the public generally. If a worker is classified as an employee, the employer bears the responsibility of paying Social Security and payroll taxes, unemployment insurance taxes and state employment taxes, providing worker’s compensation insurance, and of course, complying with the endless labyrinth of state and federal statutes governing the wages, hours, and working conditions of employees. Indeed, many businesses, particularly those operating in the “gig economy,” are fundamentally premised on the use of independent contractors. In light of this case, any businesses operating in California that treat workers as independent contractors should confer with their legal counsel to review the relationship under the “ABC test” and determine whether any or all such workers should be reclassified.
There are meritorious concerns regarding the disadvantages, particularly in the wage and hour context, inherent in relying upon a multifactor, all the circumstances standard for distinguishing between employees and independent contractors. As a consequence, it is appropriate, and most consistent with the history and purpose of the suffer or permit to work standard in California’s wage orders, to interpret that standard as: (1) placing the burden on the hiring entity to establish that the worker is an independent contractor who was not intended to be included within the wage order’s coverage; and (2) requiring the hiring entity, in order to meet this burden, to establish each of the three factors embodied in the ABC test—namely:
(A) that the worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of the work and in fact; and
(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. Dynamex Operations W., Inc. v. Superior Court, 232 Cal. Rptr. 3d 1, 5, 416 P.3d 1, 4 (2018). Thus, In order to establish that a worker is an independent contractor under the ABC standard, the hiring entity is required to establish the existence of each of the three parts of the ABC standard. Furthermore, inasmuch as a hiring entity’s failure to satisfy any one of the three parts itself establishes that the worker should be treated as an employee for purposes of the wage order, a court is free to consider the separate parts of the ABC standard in whatever order it chooses. Because in many cases it may be easier and clearer for a court to determine whether or not part B or part C of the ABC standard has been satisfied then for the court to resolve questions regarding the nature or degree of a worker’s freedom from the hiring entity’s control for purposes of part A of the standard, the significant advantages of the ABC standard—in terms of increased clarity and consistency—will often be best served by first considering one or both of the latter two parts of the standard in resolving the employee or independent contractor question.
- RON STORMOEN Contract Law and Corporate Law Adjunct Professor
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