Independent Contractors

On July 22, 2019, a three-judge panel for the Ninth Circuit withdrew its holding that Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court—the landmark California Supreme Court decision that makes it harder for companies to rely on independent contractors—applies retroactively. The panel held instead that the question should be decided by the state’s highest court.

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Hiring Entity:  When are gig workers employees?

Four Government Agencies & Courts:  It depends!

Trying to track the employment status of gig workers will make your head spin. Contractors? Employees? Super heroes?

In the last few weeks, four federal and California state agencies and courts — the US Department of Labor, the National Labor Relations Board, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the California Labor Commissioner — have all weighed in on the debate. And, the answer is — it depends.

Follow our script below to help make sense of the patchy legal landscape.


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In last Thursday’s Vazquez v. Jan-Pro Franchising, the Ninth Circuit made several impactful findings related to the infamous Dynamex decision:

  1. Aligning with several state court decisions supporting retroactivity, the Ninth Circuit ruled that Dynamex’s ABC test applies retroactively.
  2. It also applied Dynamex to a multi-level franchise structure, expanding the test beyond the independent contractor context.
  3. Last, the Court issued guidance to the district court on remand reaffirming the difficulty of “passing” the ABC test.


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On December 22, 2017, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was signed into law bringing significant changes to US tax law. One provision of the Act may further incentivize individuals to work as independent contractors instead of as traditional employees.

The new provision allows for independent contractors, and for service providers structured as a partnership or other flow-through entities, the potential to deduct up to 20% of their revenue from their taxable income. And while some companies might view the opportunity to re-classify individuals from employees to independent contractors as a “win–win” scenario, it could create substantial legal exposure for employers.


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Internal pay audits are rarely enjoyable. Depending on the scope, these audits can be complex and require detailed analysis.  However, in the current legal climate, an internal audit can be extremely valuable and greatly reduce, or even eliminate, potential liability for wage and hour claims as well as pay equity claims.  As previously reported on this blog, increased scrutiny into pay equity discrimination, changes in EEO-1 reporting requirements, the Department of Labor’s joint employment efforts, and the updated FLSA exemption rules continue to place companies at greater risk of government audits, fines, and lawsuits.

Many employers may have already reviewed and updated their policies in anticipation of the changes to the “white collar” FLSA exemptions, which go into effect on December 1, 2016. But if your company has not yet done so, or to the extent you have not conducted a more comprehensive internal audit, your company should strongly consider doing so as soon as possible for several reasons.
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So you’ve determined the employees who will be included in the layoff and determined any WARN obligations . . . now what?  While its often brushed aside as an administrative exercise, employee final pay is a significant action that is full of traps for the unwary.  Governed by the Texas Payday Law, failure to properly provide final pay can subject a company to civil liability of up to $1,000 per violation, and, if intent is shown, criminal liability.  Fortunately, the Texas Payday Law provides guidance on how to handle a number of common questions regarding final paychecks.
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