New Texas Rule Classifies Gig Economy Workers as Independent Contractors

Under a new administrative rule adopted by the Texas Workforce Commission (the TWC), effective as of April 29, 2019, many Texans working in the ever-growing “gig economy”—that sector of the labor market in which workers provide on-demand services, typically connecting with customers using digital platforms hosted by companies such as Uber and Lyft—are likely to be treated as independent contractors rather than employees. The new rule insulates companies that provide such digital platforms from paying unemployment taxes, since the individuals comprising their workforces will not be treated as employees under the Texas Unemployment Compensation Act.

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Arbitration Provisions: Applicable to Independent Contractors or Not?

A group of security workers for the National Football League urged Judge Andrew L. Carter, Jr. of the Southern District of New York to deny the NFL’s motion to arbitrate the group’s claims, arguing they never agreed to arbitrate statutory employment rights with the league. In Foran, et al. v. National Football League, et al., the group of security workers sued the NFL in November 2018 for unpaid overtime wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), among other claims, alleging the NFL misclassified them as independent contractors. The NFL moved to compel arbitration arguing the security workers’ claims are covered by the arbitration provision in their independent contractor agreements. The plaintiffs, in opposition, contend that unless the arbitration provision specifically includes a waiver of statutory claims under the FLSA, the NFL cannot compel arbitration of the claims. The motion remains pending before Judge Carter.

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Relearning the ABCs: California Supreme Court Adopts New Independent Contractor Test

Last week, in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court, 2018 WL 1999120 (Apr. 30, 2018) (Dynamex), the California Supreme Court upended the prevailing understanding of the independent contractor-employee distinction under California law. In a ruling that is certain to have wide-ranging repercussions for companies that rely on independent contractors, the Court declined to apply the multi-factor common law test derived from its 1989 decision in S.G. Borello & Sons, Inc. v. Dep’t of Indus. Rel’ns, 48 Cal. 3d 341 (1989) (Borello) to the question of whether a worker is an “employee” subject to the minimum wage and overtime protections of the California Industrial Welfare Commission’s (“IWC”) wage orders. Instead, the Court adopted a simple, three-part test that likely will expand the wage orders’ reach.

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Pennsylvania Federal Court Rules that Drivers are Properly Classified as Independent Contractors

In Razak v. Uber Technologies, Inc., a Pennsylvania federal judge ruled last week that drivers for UberBLACK, the company’s higher-end limousine service, are properly classified as independent contractors. In granting Uber’s motion for summary judgment, this court was the first federal court to determine whether drivers for UberBLACK are employees or independent contractors under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and similar Pennsylvania state laws.

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Donald Trump’s Labor Secretary Revokes Obama-Era DOL Joint Employer and Independent Contractor Guidance

On June 7, 2017, U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta announced that the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is withdrawing two major pieces of informal guidance issued during the Obama administration, pertaining to joint employment and independent contractors under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq.

The two Administrator Interpretations Letters were issued by the former head of the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division, David Weil. The first guidance letter, Administrator’s Interpretation No. 2015-1, took an aggressive position regarding misclassification of employees as independent contractors. It stressed that the “economic realities” of worker-employer relationships were paramount—i.e., whether, as a matter of economic reality, a worker was dependent on the putative employer—and suggested that most workers should be classified as employees. Although it relied on case law, the Administrator Letter provided additional refinements and, significantly, de-emphasized consideration of “control”—a major element under most common law tests.

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The EEOC’s 2017-2021 Strategic Enforcement Plan – Targeting the “Gig Economy” and Independent Contractor Misclassification

The EEOC has issued its new Strategic Enforcement Plan for the fiscal years 2017 to 2021, which outlines the areas in which the EEOC will focus its litigation and investigation resources in the next four years.  The Plan is notable for its emphasis on the “gig” workforce – that is, the short-term, temporary, or freelance workers (often working for companies like Uber, Lyft, AirBnb, or Taskrabbit) who are typically classified as independent contractors rather than employees.

In the Plan, the EEOC identified the rise of the “gig” economy as an “emerging and developing issue” warranting increased focus, particularly with regard to “clarifying the employment relationship and the application of workplace civil rights protections in light of the increasing complexity of employment relationships and structures, including temporary workers, staffing agencies, independent contractor relationships, and the on-demand economy . . .”

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