Author Archives: Gabrielle Wirth

Gabrielle Wirth

About Gabrielle Wirth

Employers turn to Gabrielle for guidance on how they can comply with the technical employment laws in California, Montana and nationwide while meeting their business needs. Her successful trial experience in a broad range of employment disputes includes wage and hour, whistleblower, wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, breach of contract, and trade secret/noncompetition cases. She also represents employers before a wide variety of state and federal agencies including the EEOC, OFCCP, state human rights agencies, the Labor Commission, the Employment Development Department and OSHA.

What Do Employers Need to Know Following the Passage of California’s New Law on Independent Contractor Misclassification?

On September 18, 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Assembly Bill 5, which clarifies when workers should be considered “employees” under the California Labor Code and the California Unemployment Insurance Code, thereby entitling them to the protections afforded by those laws. The bill codifies the standard set out in last year’s California Supreme Court decision, Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court of Los Angeles, which narrowed the circumstances under which a worker can properly be classified as an independent contractor. Specifically, under the new law, in order for a worker to properly be classified an independent contractor, the employer has the burden of establishing the following three elements (commonly referred to as the “ABC” test):

(A) The person 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;

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

(C) The person is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as that involved in the work performed.

Most of the provisions of AB 5 become effective on January 1, 2020. Below are some answers to frequently asked questions to help employers navigate this significant development.

  1. Is the law under AB 5 any different than the Dynamex ruling? Under Dynamex, the “ABC” test was limited to the resolution of the employee or independent contractor question in claims arising under California’s Wage Orders—for example, claims for failure to pay minimum wage, overtime, or failure to provide adequate meal and rest periods. AB 5 codifies the decision in the Dynamex case and expands the application of the “ABC” test not only for purposes of the Wage Orders, but also the Labor Code and Unemployment Insurance Code as well.  This means that the “ABC” test will apply to more claims, including failure to reimburse necessary business expenses, failure to provide accurate and complete wage statements, claims for waiting time penalties under Labor Code section 203, potential recovery of Private Attorney General Act (PAGA) penalties, and failure to provide workers’ compensation insurance.AB 5 also empowers the California Attorney General and specified local prosecuting agencies to pursue injunctions against putative employers suspected of misclassifying their workers.
  2. Are there any exceptions to the application of the new standard in AB 5? AB 5 provides an exemption for a number of industries and occupations, subject to licensing and other requirements, including:
    • Insurance brokers
    • Physicians, surgeons, dentists, podiatrists, psychologists or veterinarians
    • Lawyers, architects, engineers, private investigators and accountants
    • Registered securities broker-dealer or investment adviser and their agents and representatives
    • Direct sales salespersons (if they meet certain factors)
    • Commercial fishermen working on an American vessel (until January 1, 2023)
    • Contracts for “professional services” such as marketing, human resources administration, travel agents, graphic designers, grant writers, fine artists (if they meet certain factors)
    • Photographers, photojournalists, freelance writers, editors, or newspaper cartoonists (if they meet certain factors)
    • Licensed estheticians, electrologists, manicurists (until January 1, 2022), barbers, or cosmetologists (if they meet certain factors)
    • Real estate agents
    • Licensed repossession agencies
    • Bona fide business-to-business contracting relationships (under certain conditions)
    • Construction subcontractors (for work performed after January 1, 2020, under certain conditions)
    • Construction trucking services (until January 1, 2022)
    • Tutors (if they meet certain factors)
    • Motor club services

    For these occupations, the determination of employee or independent contractor status will be governed by the more flexible, multi-factor test outlined in the California Supreme Court’s decision in S. G. Borello & Sons, Inc. v. Department of Industrial Relations.

  3. What effect does AB 5 have on an employer’s obligation to provide workers’ compensation insurance? The California Labor Code, at sections 3200 et. seq., requires employers to have workers’ compensation insurance covering their employees. AB 5 amends section 3351 of the Labor Code so that, for the purposes of determining the obligation to provide workers’ compensation coverage, the “ABC” test governs. Accordingly, workers who fall within the “ABC” test (and are not covered by an exception), should be covered by workers’ compensation insurance. Note that the narrowed definition of employee does not become effective until July 1, 2020 (with respect to the workers’ compensation provisions specifically).
  4. Will AB 5 affect an employer’s obligation to pay payroll taxes? The Unemployment Insurance Code imposes obligations on employers to pay certain amounts of Unemployment Insurance Tax and Employment Training Tax for its employees. Because AB 5 changes the definition of “employee” in the Unemployment Insurance Code, employers will have to pay these payroll taxes for workers who meet the definition of “employee” under the new test.
  5. Does AB 5 affect how much employers will have to withhold from employee’s paychecks? The Unemployment Insurance Code also imposes obligations on employers to withhold a portion of employees’ wages for State Disability Insurance and for California personal income tax. Accordingly, employers will have to make these withholdings for workers who meet the definition of “employee” under the new test.
  6. Does AB 5 affect an employer’s obligation to provide health insurance? Prior to AB 5, neither the California Labor Code nor the Unemployment Insurance Code imposed an obligation to provide health insurance to employees.  The amendments to these statutes pursuant to AB 5 do not add a requirement to provide health insurance to employees.  The federal Affordable Care Act sets up a scheme whereby “large” employers must either provide health insurance to a certain percentage of their employees, or pay specified penalties.  We have not yet seen any developments indicating whether the change in the definition of “employee” under California law will affect the determination of whether a worker is considered an “employee” under the federal ACA.  However, we are monitoring this issue closely.Note, however, that some jurisdictions in California, such as San Francisco, require certain employers to satisfy health care spending requirements for employees. The amount of required spending is based on the number of the employer’s employees, with small employers potentially exempt from the requirement. AB 5 could have an impact on how these requirements apply to employers.
  7. Can employers continue to pay workers who were formerly classified as independent contractors on a piece rate or project basis? AB 5 does not impact an employer’s ability to pay workers on a piece rate basis.   In order to properly do so, however, the employer must satisfy all requirements for paying employees by the piece or unit produced.   Namely, among other things, the employer must pay the employee not less than the applicable minimum wage for all hours worked in the payroll period, compensate employees for rest and recovery periods and for other nonproductive time separate from any piece-rate compensation, and ensure that piece-rate workers are paid overtime for hours worked in excess of eight in a day or forty in a week.
  8. What effect does AB 5 have on employers who hire temporary workers through a staffing agency? AB 5 does not have a direct effect on employers who hire temporary workers through a staffing agency, assuming the staffing agency categorizes those workers as employees of the staffing agency, and not independent contractors. If the staffing agency categorized those workers as independent contractors, and placed the workers at the contracting company’s site, arguably working subject to the control of the contracting company, there is a risk that the workers could make a claim of misclassification based on the “ABC” test against both the staffing agency and the contracting company. We recommend companies retaining temporary workers through a staffing agency confirm that the staffing agency classifies the workers placed as employees, unless they clearly meet the definition of an independent contractor.

The decision as to whether to reclassify workers, and the changes to payroll and other benefits that may come along with it, continues to be nuanced. If you have independent contractors within your workforce, contact your Dorsey employment attorney for guidance.

Multistate Non-solicitation Agreements: Does One Size Fit All?

Many employers have offices in multiple states, but want to have one form of employee agreement prohibiting solicitation of employees and customers. Since some state laws, namely California, may be too different to reconcile with other states, what sort of non-solicitation agreements work in California?

In California, non-solicitation agreements are reviewed as contracts which prevent a person from engaging in a profession, trade or occupation which, with limited exceptions, are void under Business and Professions Code section 16600. Thus, recent cases have held that an agreement between an employer and employee prohibiting the solicitation of customers is not enforceable unless tied to the employee’s use of trade secrets or some other legal duty owed by the employee.

Employers have tried to draft enforceable non-solicitation clauses by characterizing customer and employee information as trade secrets. In late 2018, in AMN Healthcare, Inc. v. Aya Healthcare Services, Inc. the Court of Appeal upheld summary judgment in favor of the former employee defendants and their new employer. The former and new employer were competitors providing temporary travel nurses to medical facilities across the U.S.

The employee defendants were recruiters who signed agreements that “during employee’s employment with the Company and for a period of one year after the termination employee shall not directly or indirectly solicit or induce, or cause others to solicitor or induce, any employee of the Company . . . to leave the service of the Company.” AMN claimed that the travel nurses names and contact information were trade secrets. The court concluded that the nurses had applied to AMN years before and that the information was already in AMN’s possession or could have been obtained from other sources such as a public media group network, the Gypsy Nurse Group. For this reason, and because the employee’s profession was the recruitment of other employees, the Court found the non-solicitation agreement unenforceable.

Employers in California must therefore normally tailor any non-solicitation agreements and carefully consider if the employee truly possesses confidential/trade secret information that could be used to solicit customers. To the extent the information the employee would use to solicit is a trade secret, courts have considered the agreement to be valid. Other states may allow broader non-solicitation agreements, therefore you should use different forms to receive the maximum protection in those states.

Which Provisions of California’s So-Called ‘Sanctuary State’ Legislation Affecting Employers are Currently in Effect?

While portions of California’s Immigrant Worker Protection Act have been enjoined, employers remain subject to notice obligations. California passed a statute limiting the extent to which employers could cooperate with federal immigration officials. Litigation quickly ensued, and a recent decision enjoined enforcement of part of the law, while leaving other provisions unaffected. With the speed of the news cycle, employers may understandably require clarification as to which immigration policies are actually in effect. What portions of the sanctuary state law were enjoined, and what parts remain effective?

The Immigration Worker Protection Act (AB 450), which went into effect in January 2018, imposed three primary obligations on employers:

  1. A prohibition against allowing or consenting to a federal immigration enforcement agent’s request to enter nonpublic areas in the workplace, or to access employee records, without a judicial warrant;
  2. A prohibition against re-verifying the employment eligibility of a current employee outside the time and manner required by federal law; and
  3. A requirement to provide notice to employees upon receipt of a Notice of Inspection of Form I-9, and after the inspection, provide notice regarding the results of the inspection.

Almost immediately, the law was challenged in court, in a case called United States v. California. On July 5, 2018, John A. Mendez of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California issued a preliminary injunction blocking the enforcement of the first two of the above obligations, but not the third obligation concerning notice. The court reasoned that the first prohibition on cooperation with federal immigration officials likely “impermissibly discriminates against those who choose to deal with the Federal Government,” and therefore violates the intergovernmental immunity doctrine. The court also found that the second prohibition on early re-verifications likely violates the Supremacy Clause. The notice obligation, on the other hand, regulates the employer’s “failure to communicate with its employees,” and is therefore likely a permissible exercise of state power.

Accordingly, as it currently stands, the notice provisions are in effect. Under the statute, employers must notify employees and labor union representatives within 72 hours of receiving a Notice of Inspection of Form I-9. Employers must include the name of the federal agency conducting the inspection, the nature of the inspection, the date the employer received the inspection notice, and a copy of the inspection notice. Additionally, within 72 hours after the inspection takes place, employers must also provide affected employees and their labor union representatives with the results of the inspection, a timeframe for correcting any deficiencies found, the date and time of any meetings with the employer to correct any deficiencies found, and a notice to the employees about their rights to representation during any meeting with the employer.

It is important to note that at this point the court entered a preliminary injunction; the ultimate enforcement of the statute may change when the case reaches completion, and even then, an appeal to the Ninth Circuit (and perhaps ultimately to the Supreme Court) is likely.

When a Disclosure Form Must “Stand Alone”: Recent Cases Hold Companies Liable for Including Too Much on FCRA Disclosures

Let’s face it. The hiring process involves mounds of regulations, disclosures, authorizations, and then more disclosures. The last thing an employer – or applicant – wants to see is a higher stack of documents filled with legal jargon. Should employers then consolidate disclosures and authorizations to simplify the hiring process?

Not when doing a credit check pursuant to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Recent cases emphasize the importance of employers allowing disclosures to obtain background checks from consumer reporting agencies to “stand alone” from every other document.

The FCRA mandates that employers who seek to procure a consumer report must present “clear and conspicuous” disclosures that are contained in a document that consists solely of the disclosure. This is known as the “stand alone” requirement.

While the FCRA allows the disclosure form to also include an authorization – which is also required before procuring a report – Courts have recently cracked down on employers who include anything extraneous.

For instance, in Syed v. M-I, Ltd. Liab. Co., 853 F.3d 492 (9th Cir. 2017), the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal held that the inclusion of a liability waiver in the same document as the FCRA disclosure violated the FCRA’s “stand alone” requirement.

The Ninth Circuit further held that violation of this technical requirement is enough of a “concrete harm” to allow the case to proceed in Federal Court where the plaintiff alleged he was confused about the excess language and would not have signed the disclosure otherwise.

In Poinsignon v. Imperva, Inc., No. 17-cv-05653-EMC, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 60161 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 9, 2018), a District Court recently held that a FCRA disclosure that included references to state law, a URL link to a privacy policy, and an acknowledgment of another document – the “Summary of Rights under FCRA” – violated the FCRA’s “stand alone” requirement.

The Court in Poinsignon underscored the importance of “[p]resenting the disclosure in a separate stand-alone document free from the clutter of other language” to call “consumers’ attention to their rights and to the significant of their authorization.”

And in Lagos v. Leland Stanford Junior Univ., No. 5:15-cv-04524-PSG, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 163119 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 4, 2015), a District Court held that inclusion of seven state law notices and a sentence stating, “I also understand that nothing herein shall be construed as an offer of employment or contract for services,” plausibly violated the FCRA’s “stand alone” requirement.

Against this backdrop, there has been a considerable uptick in FCRA litigation in recent years. In 2017, FCRA litigation increased over 9% from the prior year.

So far in 2018, FCRA related filings are on pace to increase further.

Employers have also been recent targets of FCRA class action lawsuits alleging violation of the FCRA’s “stand alone” requirement.

For example, on April 20, 2018, Petco Animal Supplies, Inc., asked a Federal Court in the Southern District of California to approve a class-wide settlement of a 2016 lawsuit based on allegations that its web based application contained a FCRA disclosure containing a broad authorization for “any person” to provide “any and all information” to the consumer reporting agency, in addition to information relating to the laws of seven different states. Petco agreed to pay $1.2 million to resolve the claims of approximately 37,000 individuals.

And on April 12, 2018, Frito-Lay, Inc., asked a Federal Court in the Northern District of California to approve a class-wide settlement of a 2017 lawsuit based on allegations that Frito-Lay violated the FCRA’s “stand alone” requirement by including additional language in its FCRA disclosure form including, among other things, a statement that “I have been given a standalone consumer notification that a report will be requested and used [.]” Frito-Lay agreed to a settlement of about $2.4 million to resolve the claims of roughly 38,000 class members.

2018 marks a new opportunity for employers to review and update their hiring forms to ward off FCRA lawsuits.

Quirky Question #281: Deploying the DTSA

Question: We believe our former employee recently stole some of our trade secrets and went to a competitor.  Can we rely on the Defend Trade Secrets Act to bring suit in federal court?

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Question #275: Can We Take A Stand On Employees Sitting?

Question: Some of our retail company’s employees in California are demanding chairs to sit in while they work. Management thinks it appears unprofessional to have workers sitting, but I hear the employees might have a legal right to sit down. Should management take a stand?

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Quirky Question #270: A Win for Wellness Plans

Question: Our company offers employees a self-funded and self-insured health plan. We’d now like to implement a wellness program.  Can we require employees to complete a health risk assessment which requests personal medical information before they are eligible to participate in the health plan?  I’ve heard that asking for employee medical information, even if it’s pursuant to a wellness program, could violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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Quirky Question #268: E-Sign Away!

Question: We have our electronic handbook and arbitration agreement online, and all employees sign both electronically.  I saw a news blurb that a California court last year refused to enforce an arbitration agreement that was electronically signed.  Can’t we use electronic signatures in California?

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Quirky Question #257, Food for thought – whistleblowing claims against agricultural companies

Question:

My company manufactures food products and is thus regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  Last month, we terminated an employee because of his chronic poor performance. I just learned that the day before he was terminated, the employee told his supervisor that he believed our company was not complying with the FDA’s nutrition label requirements. Are we at risk that he will bring a whistleblower claim?

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