Nisha is always looking for the most innovative and efficient ways to provide solutions in response to her clients' labor and employment needs. She has delivered results for her clients in all aspects of employment litigation, including complex wage and hour class actions and single-plaintiff discrimination, harassment, and retaliation claims, as well as disputes over trade secrets, noncompetition agreements, or other contractual matters.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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;
A prohibition against re-verifying the employment eligibility of a current employee outside the time and manner required by federal law; and
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.
It’s a situation any Human Resources professional might find themselves in – circumstances require you to effectuate a termination in short order and you have to scramble to calculate the employees’ correct final pay and prepare a paycheck. But what if the wage statement is not ready? Does the law require employers to provide a wage statement to a terminated employee simultaneously with their final paycheck? Thanks to a recent decision from the California Court of Appeal, you have a little breathing room.
In Canales v. Wells Fargo Bank, 23 Cal. App. 5th 1262 (2018), Wells Fargo had a practice of paying certain terminated employees final wages via cashier’s checks – which were prepared in the bank branch – and then mailing the wage statements to the employees from another location, either that same day, or the following day. The plaintiff complained that the wage statements should have been provided simultaneously with the paychecks, and that Wells Fargo’s practice of mailing them constituted a violation of California Labor Code section 226, which provides:
“…[e]very employer should semimonthly or at the time of each payment of wages, furnish each of his or her employees, either as a detachable part of the check, draft, or voucher paying the employee’s wages, or separately when wages are paid by personal check or cash, an accurate itemized statement in writing…”
Wells Fargo responded that it was in compliance with the statute because:
1) The statute does not require simultaneous delivery of wage statements and specifically allows employers the option to provide wage statements “semimonthly;” and
2) It was permitted to mail the wage statements, because the statute provides that wage statements can be delivered “separately” in the case of a cashier’s check, which is analogous to cash.
The court agreed, holding, “…if an employer furnishes an employee’s wage statement before or by the semimonthly deadline, the employer is in compliance.” The court explained that it interpreted the phrase ‘“semimonthly or at the time of each payment of wages’ as representing the outermost deadlines by which an employer is required to furnish the wage statement.” The court provided the following example:
[S]uppose an employer furnishes wage statements on the first and 15th of each month. The employer discharges an employee on the second of the month. Per the statute’s plain language, if an employer pays the final wages by personal check or cash, it has the option of furnishing the discharged employee with the wage statement.
We find it illogical to conclude an employer violated section 226 by furnishing a wage statement before the semimonthly date has been reached. If the employer furnishes the wage statement to the discharged employee of the fifth of the month, the employer has complied with the requirement that it furnish the wage statement to the employee “semimonthly” because the employee would have ostensibly been furnished with the wage statement by the semimonthly date.
The court also rejected the plaintiff’s reliance on the California DLSE (Division of Labor Standards Enforcement) Enforcement Policies and Interpretations Manual, which provides, “[a] California employer must furnish a statement showing the following information to each employee at the time of payment of wages (or at least semi-monthly, whichever occurs first),” holding that the Manual is not entitled to deference as an agency regulation because it was not promulgated in accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act. The court also did not find the agency’s interpretation persuasive, finding that the term “whichever occurs first” appears nowhere in the statute, and simply does not make sense given that the statute specifically provides employers a choice of two separate timeframes to issue wage statements:
1) “semimonthly” or
2)“at the time of each payment of wages.”
The Canales decision is certainly one where common sense prevailed. Keep it in mind next time next time you have the final pay, but not the wage statement, ready at the time of termination.
Dorsey is a business law firm with more than 550 attorneys across the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia. Our lawyers regularly handle every sort of employment matter, litigated and non-litigated. We have extensive, successful trial experience (including class and collective actions), as well as an outstanding record for obtaining summary judgments. Dorsey also has broad experience in advising, counseling, compliance and development, policy handbook review, training and other measures that can greatly reduce the likelihood of litigation or governmental enforcement actions.