It was expected that California’s Assembly Bill 5 passed late last year would spawn tons of litigation. The law radically changed how workers from uber drivers to television show writers were classified. Those negatively impacted by the law aggressively lobbied for changes and exemptions while planning litigation should their lobbying efforts fail.
There has been an ongoing fight over how to define employees for the past few decades. As technology has re-shaped the workforce, this fight has gotten more intense. State and federal governments have struggled to set clear lines dividing independent contractors from employees for a number of purposes, including taxation and the application of workplace benefits. These benefits and taxes add on average 20% to 30% to the cost of hiring and paying a worker.
Hours of service requirements are a big deal for trucking companies. The penalties for violations can be significant – up to $16,000 per violation. Violations will also impact a trucking company’s safety score, impacting their insurance premiums. At the same time, compliance with hours of service requirements involves significant office work and record-keeping, which also cost money.
Action over cases have become increasingly common over the past two decades. These cases involve employees collecting worker’s compensation from their employer, and then suing a third party that caused their injuries through negligence who had a contractual indemnity clause with the employer that covers the lawsuit. The prevalence of these suits have led insurance companies to take action by issuing new endorsements aimed at protecting themselves.
The Fair Labor Standards Act sets national standards for wage and hour issues related to employees. The law empowers the Department of Labor to set eligibility standards for overtime pay as well as a series of exemptions for it. Employees who qualify for overtime under the law receive time-and-a-half pay for hours worked more than forty hours a week. Time-and-a-half pay is a 50% increase to the employee’s “regular rate of pay.”
High cost for Businesses Misclassification
California continues its aggressive moves to protect truck drivers and crack down on misclassification of workers as independent contractors. The California Labor Commission opened 2019 by awarding 24 drivers who work at the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach almost six million dollars in compensatory damages in two separate. Additionally, the Labor Commission held the manager of the 24 drivers personally liable under California law for the damages. The decision is major sign of California’s ongoing intent to crack down on these issues.
Developments over the last few years in federal labor law have generated a lot of discussion and analysis. Regulations and decisions affecting joint employer liability and the definition of employees at the federal level obviously draw the attention of employers. Its easy to overlook though that each state is often free to establish their own standards and tests for determining these questions; those standards may sometimes conflict with federal law.
The classification of workers as independent contractors or employees continues to draw aggressive state action. These classifications can significantly impact a host of employment-related areas, but the reason why states involve themselves so much in these determinations often center around taxation issues. To this end, New Jersey recently updated its regulations to make it significantly harder for companies seeking an exemption from unemployment taxes to classify their workers as independent contractors, and it will have a big impact on trucking companies.
The next step in the long running saga over the Browning Ferris rule has finally arrived. After the National Labor Relations Board issued its decision in Browning-Ferris in 2015, a wave of lawsuits, regulatory challenges, and attempted legislative overrides put the future of that decision into doubt. An overturning of the rule became a key focus of the new administration in charge at the National Labor Relations Board. The board even issued a decision that purported to overturn the rule only to have that decision retracted due to an ethics issue. Now, on September 13, 2018, the Board has issued a new proposed regulation that seek to overturn the Browning-Ferris decision.
Issues of joint employment responsibility continue to make headlines across the United States. Controversy has reigned ever since the National Labor Relations Board issued its decision in Browning-Ferris which changed the standards for establishing when a joint employment relationship exists. The Board has overturned its Browning-Ferris decision in the intervening years, only to have the case overturning Browning-Ferris itself get overturned due to ethical issues. States have moved forward with enforcing stricter joint employer liability standards even in the absence of federal action. Businesses have had to try and re-define their employment relationships in a world of considerable uncertainty.