Many California companies have recently been sued and had an assessment issued against them by the California Employment Development Department (“EDD”) for unpaid payroll taxes because the company allegedly misclassified its California workers as independent contractors rather than employees.
If a company improperly classifies a worker as an independent contractor, it may face liability from an assessment from the EDD for unpaid unemployment insurance, disability insurance, and employment taxes. In addition to the EDD assessment, the misclassified workers could also allege that they are owed unpaid overtime going back four years in addition to seeking reimbursement and for businesses expenses and penalties in violation of Labor Code section 2802.
For guidance on whether employers have properly classified its workers as independent contractors, the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (“DLSE”) provides an explanation of the “economic realities” test. The DLSE maintains that the most indicative fact determinative of whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor depends on whether the person to whom service is rendered (the employer or principal) has control or the right to control the worker both as to the work done and the manner and means in which it is performed. The DLSE also sets forth the other factors that are considered when determining an employee’s status:
- Whether the person performing services is engaged in an occupation or business distinct from that of the principal;
- Whether or not the work is a part of the regular business of the principal or alleged employer;
- Whether the principal or the worker supplies the instrumentalities, tools, and the place for the person doing the work;
- The alleged employee’s investment in the equipment or materials required by his or her task or his or her employment of helpers;
- Whether the service rendered requires a special skill;
- The kind of occupation, with reference to whether, in the locality, the work is usually done under the direction of the principal or by a specialist without supervision;
- The alleged employee’s opportunity for profit or loss depending on his or her managerial skill;
- The length of time for which the services are to be performed;
- The degree of permanence of the working relationship;
- The method of payment, whether by time or by the job; and
- Whether or not the parties believe they are creating an employer-employee relationship may have some bearing on the question, but is not determinative since this is a question of law based on objective tests.
The DLSE’s full explanation of this topic can be found here. The DLSE’s information provides a great starting point for employers to audit their classifications of employees, but each case may present different facts, and the economic realities test may change depending on the jurisdiction and whether state or federal law is at issue.