Articles Posted in Misclassification

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On April 2, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro that an auto dealership’s service advisors were exempt from overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which excludes “any salesman, partsman or mechanic primarily engaged in selling or servicing automobiles” from the FLSA’s overtime provisions. While the case turned on this fairly specific overtime exemption question, however, the Court’s decision has much greater implications, laying out a new standard for analyzing overtime exemptions under the FLSA and rejecting the longstanding precedent that FLSA exemptions be “narrowly construed” in favor of a broader “fair reading” standard.

The FLSA is a federal wage-and-hour statute which establishes, among other things, minimum wage and overtime requirements for covered employers. Under the FLSA, most employees are entitled to overtime premium pay—pay at one-and-a-half times the regular hourly rate for hours worked in excess of 40 in a given work week. Some workers, however, are exempt from the FLSA’s overtime provisions, including executives, administrative employees, learned professionals (such as doctors and lawyers), and creative professionals (such as musicians and actors), among a number of others.  Encino Motorcars dealt with a less common, more obscure FLSA exemption, set forth in § 213(b)(10)(A) of the FLSA, which states that “any salesman, partsman, or mechanic primarily engaged in selling or servicing automobiles, trucks, or farm implements” is exempt from overtime under the FLSA.

In Encino Motorcars, a group of current and former service advisors at an auto dealership brought suit under the FLSA, alleging that they were owed back pay because their employer had misclassified them as exempt from overtime under the FLSA. The defendant then successfully moved to dismiss on the grounds that the plaintiffs fell within the “selling or servicing automobiles” FLSA exemption, which decision plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling, finding the language of the FLSA “ambiguous” and the legislative history “inconclusive.” Encino Motorcars then appealed the Ninth Circuit’s holding to the U.S. Supreme Court, which reversed and remanded in a 5-4 decision.

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Owen Laird, Esq.

Today is Opening Day for the 2018 Major League Baseball season. Spring training is over, and while the Major Leaguers head back to their stadiums, the Minor League players who didn’t make the cut are headed back to work as well. Those Minor Leaguers might be a little worse off this year because of the sweeping $1.3 trillion budget bill that President Trump signed last week. One of the more nuanced aspects of the bill is an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) known as the “Save America’s Pastime Act.” This amendment aims to “save” baseball by suppressing the wages that minor league teams pay to their players.

While major league baseball players enjoy a minimum annual salary—which amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, with top players earning tens of millions of dollars a year—minor league baseball players are a different story. Not only do minor league players significantly outnumber major league players, but, unlike major league players, minor leaguers are not unionized. As a result, baseball’s minor leagues are populated with thousands of players, many of whom are barely squeaking by.

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On February 15, 2018, Judge William Alsup of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted class certification in Dulberg v. Uber Technologies, Inc., a suit filed in February 2017 alleging that Uber’s pricing and payment model deprives drivers of fair pay for their work. This decision will allow as many as 9,197 Uber drivers from across the United States to pursue their claims as a class.

Uber is among the most successful of a number of rapidly growing companies that are part of the so-called “gig economy.” The U.S. Department of Labor defines a “gig” as a “single project or task for which a worker is hired, often through a digital marketplace, to work on demand.” Gig economy and freelance workers, such as Uber drivers, are becoming an increasingly visible and important component of the U.S. workforce; an estimated nearly four million freelancers work in the New York City area alone. Yet while gig economy workers may enjoy certain benefits—such as scheduling flexibility—they are also often at a disadvantage in comparison to traditional employees. Gig economy workers are almost invariably classified as independent contractors and are thereby cut off from most of the legal protections afforded to employees, including minimum wage and overtime laws, as well as employment benefits like health insurance—and many freelancers report difficulty getting paid for their work on time or at all.

Uber’s treatment of its gig economy workers has gained particular attention over the past several years, as drivers have brought a number of lawsuits against the company and have protested many of Uber’s internal policies, such as its recently revoked harsh termination policy, under which any driver with three complaints would be automatically terminated without investigation. Recently, a U.K. court issued a landmark decision, finding that Uber’s London drivers were employees, not independent contractors, and we have previously reported on several lawsuits brought by Uber drivers concerning whether drivers’ on-call time is compensable, drivers’ arbitration agreements with Uber, and class actions challenging Uber’s classification of drivers as independent contractors.

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By Owen H. Laird, Esq., and Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

Recognizing the unequal bargaining power between employees and employers, employment laws such as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) create rights and protections for employees. And, while identifying whether a worker is an employee or not may seem relatively straightforward at first glance, the question can, in reality, be surprisingly complicated. Between traditional employees, independent contractors, and paid and unpaid interns, modern workplaces include a variety of different types of workers, only some of whom are entitled to the rights and protections created by laws like the FLSA.

A recent decision by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) changed the standard by which the DOL determines whether interns qualify as employees under the FLSA for the purposes of minimum wage and overtime rights. In 2010, the DOL adopted a six-factor conjunctive test for interns, whereby a legitimate internship relationship would exist only if all six factors were met. Those factors were:

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Owen H. Laird, Esq.

We regularly write about overtime issues for employers and employees.  The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) creates a baseline right to overtime for millions of employees, and many states have enacted their own labor laws to enhance those rights.

However, the FLSA and its state counterparts do not require employers to pay all employees overtime; these statutes include large swaths of workers who are “exempt” from the overtime pay requirements.  For example, the FLSA includes exemptions for “professional” employees, which includes individuals such as doctors, teachers, architects, and most employees who need to have an advanced degree; “executive” employees, which includes many individuals who have managerial or supervisory responsibilities; “administrative” employees, which includes individuals who, roughly, perform office work related to the employer’s business operations and can function autonomously; and more specific exemptions for certain industries, such as outside salespeople and agricultural workers.  These exemptions are complex, and the single-sentence summary above does not do justice to the millions of hours that thousands of attorneys have spent litigating these issues.  In short, lawyers, judges, and administrators must look at an employee’s specific job responsibilities to determine whether they are exempt or not.

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Owen H. Laird, Esq.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to hear two cases that will have major ramifications for workers across the country. One case threatens one of organized labor’s most important rights, and the other impacts employees of car dealerships nationwide.

The Court agreed to hear arguments on Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which concerns a union’s right to take dues from non-members who are in the same bargaining unit as members the union represents. This issue of union dues has been long, and corporate interests have been successful in gradually rolling back organized labor’s ability to raise funds.

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Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

In McKeen-Chaplin v. Provident Savings Bank, FSB, the Ninth Circuit ruled that mortgage underwriters employed by a bank were entitled to overtime compensation for hours worked in excess of 40 in a work week.  The Ninth Circuit held that, because the mortgage underwriters’ primary job duty did not relate to the bank’s management or general business operations, they did not fall under the administrative exemption to the overtime requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

To show that an employee qualifies for the FLSA’s administrative exemption, an employer must demonstrate that the employee’s primary duty involves office or “non-manual work directly related to the management policies or general business operations” of the employer or its customers. This requirement is met if the employee engages in “running the business itself or determining its overall course or policies,” not just in the day-to-day carrying out of the business’ affairs. Said otherwise, “an employee must perform work directly related to assisting with the running or servicing of the business, as distinguished, for example, from working on a manufacturing production line or selling a product in a retail or service establishment.”

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By Owen H. Laird, Esq.

Last month, President Trump laid out a tax cut plan that, among other things, would lower the corporate tax rate to fifteen percent from the current rate of thirty-five percent. This reduction in the corporate tax rate is one of the most significant changes proposed by Trump; his plan would primarily benefit corporations and the wealthy. Although President Trump is constantly in the headlines, even to the extent that a signature tax proposal is overshadowed, it is important to pay attention to the less sensational actions taken by the Trump administration that will have long-lasting effects on the American public.

A recent article in the New York Times delved into potential effect of the drastic cut to the corporate tax rate: if the corporate tax rate is significantly less than the personal income tax rate, individuals would be incentivized to form corporations and pass any income they earned through that corporate entity, forsaking the traditional employee-employer relationship. Many workers are already considered “independent contractors” rather than employees. If these independent contractors formed a C-corporation and ran their income through it, that income would be taxed at the corporate rate, rather than the normal individual rate. If the tax incentives were high enough, whole classes of workers might choose to restructure their employment by becoming independent contractors and incorporate themselves in order to lower their tax burdens.

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On April 12, 2017, the Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision in Saleem v. Corporate Transportation Group, Ltd., finding that a group of black-car drivers had been properly classified as independent contractors under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and New York Labor Law (NYLL). The court held that the drivers’ significant degree of independence prevented them from establishing that they were employees within the meaning of the FLSA or NYLL.

Under New York law, black cars are defined as a “type of for‐hire vehicle (along with livery vehicles and limousines) that provide ground transportation by prearrangement with customers.” The Saleem plaintiffs are a group of black-car drivers serving clients throughout the tri-state area; the defendants were operators and administrators of a black-car dispatch, which sells black-car franchises to individual drivers and refers the dispatcher’s clients to the driver. Each driver signed an agreement with a franchisor, stating that the driver was not an “employee or agent” but instead a “subscriber to [the franchisor’s] services offered,” that the driver would “at all times be free from [the franchisor’s] control or direction,” and that the franchisor would not “control, supervise or direct” the driver’s work. The agreements did not prohibit drivers from transporting customers for other companies, including competitors, but did require that drivers comply with policies set out by each franchisor, such as rules concerning dress code and vehicle cleanliness.

In November 2012, a group of drivers filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleging that the franchisors had violated the overtime provisions of the FLSA and NYLL by misclassifying the drivers as independent contractors and thus depriving them of overtime compensation; under the FLSA and NYLL, employees are entitled to overtime pay for hours worked over 40 in a work week, while independent contractors are not. In June 2013, the case was conditionally certified as an FLSA collective action, and in 2014, the parties cross-moved for summary judgment. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants, finding that “all Plaintiffs in this suit — both named Plaintiffs and opt-in Plaintiffs — are independent contractors for purposes of the FLSA and the NYLL.” Plaintiffs subsequently appealed to the Second Circuit.

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On March 13, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reversed the district court’s granting of summary judgment in O’Connor v. Oakhurst Dairy, an unpaid overtime case brought by delivery drivers for Oakhurst Dairy (“Oakhurst”), a Maine local milk and cream company. The First Circuit found that the district court had incorrectly categorized the drivers as exempt from overtime under an ambiguous section of the Maine state wage-and-hour law—all, as First Circuit Judge David J. Barron wrote in the O’Connor opinion, “[f]or want of a comma.”

The O’Connor plaintiffs filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Maine in May 2014, seeking unpaid overtime wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the overtime provisions of the Maine state wage-and-hour statute, 26 M.R.S.A. § 664(3). They alleged that Oakhurst had misclassified them as exempt under Exemption F of the Maine state overtime law, which states that employees engaged in “canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of […] [p]erishable foods” do not receive overtime protections.

The dispute turned on the phrase “packing for shipment or distribution,” and, specifically, the lack of a comma after the word “shipment.” The drivers argued that the phrase refers to one job duty: “the single activity of ‘packing,’ whether the ‘packing’ is for ‘shipment’ or for ‘distribution.’” Since the drivers handled perishable foods, but did not engage in packing them, they alleged that they had been improperly classified as exempt under Exemption F. Oakhurst counter-argued that the provision describes two distinct activities: (1) “packing for shipment,” and (2) “distribution.” Under this reading of Exemption F, the dairy delivery drivers could be properly classified as exempt, as they did engage in the distribution of perishable foods. Both parties moved for partial summary judgment, which the district court granted in favor of Oakhurst. Plaintiffs appealed, and the First Circuit reversed the district court’s decision.

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