In April 2018, we wrote about the California Supreme Court’s decision in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court, which had clarified the standard for determining whether workers in California should be classified as employees or as independent contractors for purposes of the wage orders adopted by California’s Industrial Welfare Commission (“IWC”).

In Dynamex, the Court adopted the “ABC” test that has been used in some other jurisdictions.  Because Dynamex had adopted the “ABC” test for claims arising under IWC wage orders, there was some uncertainty after Dynamex regarding whether the new test would apply to claims that are not brought under a wage order.  The Dynamex Court did not consider or express a view about non-wage-order claims.

On October 22, 2018, the California Court of Appeal addressed that issue in Garcia v. Border Transportation Group, LLC, holding that Dynamex’s “ABC” test does not apply to claims not arising under a wage order.  The Garcia Court held that the widely used Borello standard applies to non-wage-order claims for determining whether workers are employees or independent contractors.

Although many wage-hour claims do arise under an IWC wage order, a number do not.  For example, certain claims for expense reimbursement under Labor Code section 2802, claims for wage statement violations under section 226, and claims for waiting time penalties under section 203 for an alleged failure to pay all wages due at the end of employment arise under the Labor Code only; there are no equivalent claims under any IWC wage order.

Following Garcia, entities doing business in California that have had actions filed against them alleging independent contractor misclassification based on Dynamex now have authority to argue that a number of claims should be dismissed.

On May 3, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed an executive order (“Order”) establishing a Task Force on Employee Misclassification (“Task Force”) to address concerns surrounding the misclassification of employees as independent contractors. The Order estimates that misclassification may deprive New Jersey of over $500 million yearly in tax revenue and deprive workers of employment-related benefits and protections to which they are entitled.

The Task Force’s mandate is to provide advice and recommendations to the Governor’s Office and Executive Branch Departments and agencies on both strategies and actions to fight misclassification, including:

  1. Examining and evaluating existing misclassification enforcement by executive departments and agencies;
  2. Developing best practices by departments and agencies to increase coordination of information and efficient enforcement;
  3. Developing recommendations to foster compliance with the law, including by educating employers, workers, and the public about misclassification; and
  4. Conducting a review of existing law and applicable procedures related to misclassification.

The Task Force will be comprised of at least 12 members, including three representatives from the Department of Labor and Workforce Development; three representatives from the Department of the Treasury; and one representative each from the Department of Law and Public Safety, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Banking and Insurance, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Transportation, and the Economic Development Authority.

The Order calls for the Task Force to organize and meet as soon as possible to begin its work and is a likely harbinger of increased governmental audits and enforcement actions. Accordingly, the time is ripe for employers to review their policies and practices with respect to consultants and other independent contractors to ensure they meet New Jersey’s stringent ABC Test for classification of independent contractors, which we have previously discussed.

On April 30, 2018, the California Supreme Court issued its long-awaited opinion in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court, clarifying the standard for determining whether workers in California should be classified as employees or as independent contractors for purposes of the wage orders adopted by California’s Industrial Welfare Commission (“IWC”). In so doing, the Court held that there is a presumption that individuals are employees, and that an entity classifying an individual as an independent contractor bears the burden of establishing that such a classification is proper under the “ABC test” used in some other jurisdictions.

Depending on the applicable statute or regulation, California has a number of different definitions for whether an individual is considered an entity’s employee. In Dynamex, the Court concluded that one of these definitions – “suffer or permit to work” – may be relied upon in evaluating whether a worker is an employee for purposes of the obligations imposed by the wage order. But the Court held that the Court of Appeal had gone too far in providing a literal interpretation of “suffer or permit to work” that would encompass virtually anyone who provided services.

The Court held that it is the burden of the hiring entity to establish that a worker is an independent contractor who was not intended to be included within the applicable wage order’s coverage.

To meet this burden, the hiring entity must establish each of the following three factors, commonly known as the “ABC test”:

(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.

The Court concluded that the “suffer or permit to work definition is a term of art that cannot be interpreted literally in a manner that would encompass within the employee category the type of individual workers . . . who have traditionally been viewed as genuine independent contractors who are working only in their own independent business.”

Following Dynamex, entities doing business in California that treat some workers as independent contractors will want to review their relationship under the “ABC test” to determine whether any or all such workers should be reclassified.

Michael D. ThompsonOn January 14, 2015, in Hargrove v. Sleepy’s LLC, the New Jersey Supreme Court answered a certified question from the Third Circuit and held that the “ABC” test governs whether a plaintiff is an employee or an independent contractor under the New Jersey Wage Payment Law and the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law.

Therefore, companies defending their independent contractor classifications in either litigation or government investigations under these statutes will be required to show that an individual providing services:

(A)       is free from the company’s control in performing the services;

(B)       performs work outside the usual course of the company’s business or outside the company’s place of business; and

(C)       is engaged in an independently established business.

The plaintiffs in Hargrove v. Sleepy’s delivered mattresses for Sleepy’s, and filed suit under the New Jersey Wage Payment law (and several other statutes) alleging that Sleepy’s misclassified them as independent contractors.  The case was litigated before the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.

Sleepy’s argued that plaintiffs’ status as employees should be decided under the “right to control” test applied by to ERISA claims by the United States Supreme Court in Nationwide Mutual Ins. Co. v. Darden.

The District Court applied the “right to control” test and concluded that the plaintiffs were, in fact, independent contractors.  The plaintiffs appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

In May 2013, the Third Circuit petitioned the New Jersey Supreme Court to answer the following question:

Under New Jersey law, which test should a court apply to determine a plaintiff’s employment status for purposes of the New Jersey Wage Payment Law, N.J.S.A. § 34:11-4.1, et seq., and the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law, N.J.S.A. § 34:11-56a, et seq.?

Seal of the Supreme Court of New JerseyThe New Jersey Supreme Court granted the petition by the Third Circuit.

The New Jersey Supreme Court noted that neither the Wage Payment Law nor its regulations provide criteria for distinguishing between an employee and an independent contractor.  However, the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s regulations implementing the Wage Hour Law expressly provide that the distinction between an employee and an independent contractor should be resolved by reference to the ‘ABC’ test.”

The Supreme Court of New Jersey stated that the “express purpose” of both statutes is to foster “the provision of greater income security for workers.”  The Court asserted that the “ABC” test “operates to provide more predictability” than other tests of independent contractor status, and that there was no good reason “to depart from the standard adopted by the DOL to guide employment status determinations or to disregard the long-standing practice of treating both statutory schemes in tandem.”

For those reasons, the New Jersey Supreme court held that any dispute regarding independent contractor status arising under the Wage Payment Law and the Wage and Hour Law should be resolved by utilizing the “ABC” test.

The decision in Hargrove v. Sleepy’s is important in large part because the “ABC” test is significantly different from other independent contractor tests.  In particular, employers should scrutinize the New Jersey Supreme Court’s description of part C of the test as (requiring an independently-established business):

Therefore, part C of the “ABC” test is satisfied when an individual has a profession that will plainly persist despite the termination of the challenged relationship… When the relationship ends and the individual joins the ranks of the unemployed, this element of the test is not satisfied.

Accordingly, New Jersey employers should further examine their independent contractor relationships against the criteria of the “ABC” test.