Over the weekend, Governor Brown signed S.B. 459 into law (among other employment bills) which makes employers liable for civil penalties of $5,000 to $15,000 for each violation of “willful misclassification” of employees as independent contractors. In addition, if it is found that the employer has a pattern and practice of misclassifying independent contractors, the penalties can increase to a minimum of $10,000 to $25,000 per violation. The new law adds Sections 226.8 and 2753 to the Labor Code.
The new law imposes the penalties for a “willful misclassification,” which is defined as:
"Willful misclassification" means avoiding employee status for an individual by voluntarily and knowingly misclassifying that individual as an independent contractor.
Click here to read more information about the factors considered in determining whether a worker qualifies as an independent contractor and other areas of liability employers face in addition to this new law.
In addition to the substantial civil penalties, employers who violate the law are also required to post a notice on their website, or if the employer does not have a website they must post it in an area available to employees and the general public, for one year about the violation. The notice must contain the following information:
(1) That the Labor and Workforce Development Agency or a court, as applicable, has found that the person or employer has committed a serious violation of the law by engaging in the willful misclassification of employees.
(2) That the person or employer has changed its business practices in order to avoid committing further violations of this section.
(3) That any employee who believes that he or she is being misclassified as an independent contractor may contact the Labor and Workforce Development Agency. The notice shall include the mailing address, e-mail address, and telephone number of the agency.
(4) That the notice is being posted pursuant to a state order.
The law gives the Labor Commissioner the power the collect the civil penalties. There is also an argument that individual litigants may recover a portion of the civil penalties by bringing a Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) claim. However, PAGA was not amended to specifically deal with the new labor code sections created by the new law, so there will undoubtedly be litigation over the extent the new law is actionable under PAGA, or the legislature may amend PAGA to clarify this issue.
The intent of the legislature is clear by passing this law – it does not want independent contractors to be used in California. Employers must therefore be very careful in conducting the analysis of whether employees are properly classified as independent contractors.