California Corner: The Employee v. Contractor Saga Continues as Uber and Postmates Face First Defeat in Attempt to Enjoin AB5

Caroline Powell Donelan and Natalie Alameddine

The hopes of California gig economy companies to retain the flexibility to classify workers as independent contractors were dashed this week when a federal district court judge refused to enjoin Assembly Bill 5 (“AB5”), which codifies the “ABC” test for most independent contractor classifications.

Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB5 into law last fall, effecting a seismic change on California’s legal landscape. Effective January 1, 2020, the law makes it nearly impossible for companies to lawfully classify most workers as independent contractors (rather than employees). The bill expands on California Supreme Court’s three-prong “ABC” test from its 2018 Dynamex decision for determining how workers can be classified, which you can read about here. With certain limited statutory exceptions, AB5 provides that, to properly classify a worker as an independent contractor in California, an employer must demonstrate that the worker: (A) is free from the company’s control and direction; (B) performs work outside of the company’s usual course of business; and (C) is customarily engaged in independent work of the same nature as the work performed. There is no balancing, as all three factors must be met. Continue reading “California Corner: The Employee v. Contractor Saga Continues as Uber and Postmates Face First Defeat in Attempt to Enjoin AB5”

Goodbye Uber Class Action, Hello Individual Arbitration

Natalie Alameddine and Caroline Powell Donelan

Last week, in a significant blow to claims that gig economy workers are entitled to pursue disputes on a class or collective basis, and possibly whether those workers will be able to establish that they are employees and not independent contractors, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously decertified a class of 240,000 Uber drivers. The decision in O’Conner v. Uber is a victory for the ride-share company, which will now be able to defend claims that it misclassified employees as independent contractors on an individual basis—one arbitration at a time.

For the past five years, there has been an ongoing and contentious dispute over whether Uber drivers (and similarly, Lyft and other ride-share drivers) are independent contractors or employees. If the workers are deemed to be employees, Uber could face hundreds of millions of dollars in alleged California labor code violations and business expense claims. To combat the possibility of having to litigate this issue on a class-wide basis, Uber entered into arbitration agreements with each driver, requiring that any driver’s claims be arbitrated and that each case had to be arbitrated individually (rather than as a class action). Continue reading “Goodbye Uber Class Action, Hello Individual Arbitration”

Independent Contractors in California—Misclassification Is Now “Easy as ABC”

Caroline Powell Donelan

California employers are facing a harsh new reality as a result of the state Supreme Court’s recent decision adopting a new test for determining whether a worker can properly be classified as an independent contractor (versus an employee) “for purposes of California wage orders,” which generally impose obligations on employers relating to non-exempt employees’ wages, hours, and working conditions like meal periods and rest breaks.

The underlying claims were brought by two delivery drivers alleging Dynamex, a nationwide same-day courier and delivery service, had improperly classified them and other “similarly situated” drivers as independent contractors. In relevant part, these drivers:

  • were paid a flat fee or percentage of the delivery fee received from the customer;
  • were generally free to set their own schedules;
  • were free to reject or accept jobs assigned by Dynamex;
  • used their own cell phones and vehicles for work;
  • were free to choose their own routes;
  • could perform work for other companies; and
  • were hired for an indefinite period of time.

Under most tests distinguishing independent contractors from employees, these facts would have weighed toward an independent contractor determination. However, in a densely-academic, 82-page opinion, the Court held that the “suffer or permit to work” definition of “employ” contained in the wage orders should replace the more flexible “right of control” test which has been used in California since 1989. Specifically, the Court adopted the “ABC” test as the proper way to distinguish employees from independent contractors. Continue reading “Independent Contractors in California—Misclassification Is Now “Easy as ABC””