Reconciling the Gig Economy in California: Changes to Worker Classification Laws Since AB 5
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Assembly Bill (AB) 5, signed by Governor Gavin Newsom in September 2019, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, codified the California Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court of Los Angeles. Dynamex created the presumption that a worker is an employee rather than an independent contractor unless the hiring business can prove each prong of an ABC test, as follows:
Though AB 5 outlined a number of exemptions, the law left many who previously relied on contractor work confused as to how to classify workers that would no longer be presumed independent contractors under the strict ABC test. Dissatisfaction with the new law quickly led to challenges at the Legislature, leading to the passage of AB 2257 and approval of Proposition 22 by voters this year.
AB 2257, drafted by the same author of AB 5, was signed into law by Governor Newsom on Sept.4, 2020. The bill primarily relates to creative work. Under AB 5, certain specified occupations and business relationships were exempted from the application of the ABC test. AB 2257 revised and recast these provisions substantially. The bill additionally specifically exempts certain occupations in creating, marketing, promoting, or distributing sound recordings or musical compositions. The law exempts a musician or musical group for the purpose of a single-engagement live performance event, and an individual performance artist presenting material that is their original work and creative in character, and the result of which depends primarily on the individual's talent.
AB 2257 narrowed the professional services exemption for services provided by still photographers, photojournalists, freelance writers, editors, and newspaper cartoonists. The bill establishes an exemption for services provided by still photographers, photojournalists, videographers, or photo editors (as defined under law) who work under a written contract that specifies certain terms, subject to prescribed restrictions. The bill also establishes an exemption for services provided to a digital content aggregator (as defined under law) by a still photographer, photojournalist, videographer, or photo editor, and establishes an exemption for services provided by a fine artist, freelance writer, translator, editor, content contributor, advisor, narrator, cartographer, producer, copy editor, illustrator, or newspaper cartoonist who works under a written contract that specifies the terms, subject to prescribed restrictions.
While the majority of the changes established by AB 2257 relate to creative work, the bill also created additional exemptions for certain other narrowly tailored professions and occupations, such as for people who provide underwriting inspections and other services for the insurance industry, manufactured housing salespersons, people engaged by an international exchange visitor program, consulting services, animal services, and competition judges with specialized skills. The bill also creates exceptions for licensed landscape architects, specialized performers teaching master classes, registered professional foresters, real estate appraisers and home inspectors, and feedback aggregators.
The bill revised the conditions under which business service providers providing services pursuant to contract to another business are exempt. The bill also revised the criteria under which referral agencies and service providers providing services to clients through referral agencies are exempt and revised the applicable definitions.
Finally, AB 2257 created an exemption for business-to-business relationships between two or more sole proprietors, and provides that a hiring entity need only satisfy all of the conditions of one of the exemption provisions to qualify for the exemption from the ABC Test.
With respect to enforcement, AB 2257 expanded the possibility of enforcement actions by authorizing any District Attorney to prosecute an action for injunctive relief, in addition to the Attorney General or any City Attorney authorized previously by AB 5.
On Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, California voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 22. Proposition 22, the most expensive initiative sponsored in California history, backed by Uber, Lyft, and Doordash, codifies the Protect App-Based Drivers and Services Act drafted in response to the restrictions passed under AB 5.
Many companies utilizing contractors have difficulty meeting the B-prong of the ABC test, and thus face significant misclassification risk. This is especially so in the gig economy, where contractors are used to perform work that a hiring entity is in the business of providing to end-customers. AB 5 provides little to no relief for employers within the gig economy, as none of the enumerated exemptions apply.
Proposition 22 is targeted to the gig economy and carves out a specific exemption from AB 5 for "app-based drivers" retained by "network companies." The Proposition defines "app-based driver" as an individual who is a courier or driver for a company that maintains an online-enabled application or platform used to facilitate delivery services on an on-demand basis or to connect passengers with drivers using a personal vehicle. App-based drivers will be presumed independent contractors so long as a minimum standard is met:
Proposition 22 provides a number of legal employment benefits and protections that are required in California for workers classified as employees. For example, app-based drivers now have a guaranteed "net earnings floor" comprised of 120 percent of the applicable minimum wage of the worker's "engaged time," guaranteed tips and gratuities, and a guaranteed quarterly healthcare subsidy. For drivers that average 25 hours per week of engaged time during a calendar quarter, the subsidy will equal 82 percent of the average California Covered premium for each month. And for drivers who average between 15 and 25 hours, the subsidy will equal 41 percent of the average California Covered premium. Proposition 22 also requires the applicable companies to provide occupational accident insurance to cover at least $1 million in medical expenses and lost income resulting from injuries suffered while a driver is online, and disability payments of 66 percent of a driver's average weekly earnings before the injuries suffered. Proposition 22 further requires the applicable company to provide accidental death insurance for the benefit of a driver's spouse, children, or other dependents when the driver dies while using the app.
In addition to the employment-like pay benefits, Proposition 22 requires network companies to develop anti-discrimination and sexual harassment policies, and develop training programs for drivers related to driving, traffic, accident avoidance, and recognizing sexual assault and misconduct. The ballot measure also criminalizes the impersonation of an app-based driver as a misdemeanor.
Proposition 22 is most likely here to stay. The new law contains a provision which permits the Legislature to amend the law only with a statute passed in each house by seven-eighths of the membership. While a big win for gig economy companies using app-based drivers, Proposition 22's reach is otherwise very limited. It only applies to companies that maintain an online-enabled application or platform used to facilitate delivery services on an on-demand basis, who also maintain a record of the amount of engaged time and miles accumulated by its couriers, or "transportation network companies" as defined in Public Utilities Code section 5431. i.e., a company operating in California that provides prearranged transportation services for compensation using an online-enabled application or platform to connect passengers with drivers using a personal vehicle. In other words, taxi or courier service companies that utilize an online platform to provide on-demand service are the only ones benefiting from the new law.
In sum, Proposition 22 creates a separate classification for app-based drivers. App-based drivers are thus no longer independent contractors or employees in the traditional sense, but rather a hybrid maintaining the independence traditionally enjoyed by contractors with some of the benefits and protections mandated for employees. The overwhelming support for this new classification in California could see ripple effects across the nation where app-based driving companies operate. Likewise, other industries that utilize an app-based model to provide services by contract workers to end-consumers may see value in developing similar legal exemptions for their gig workforce. Further changes to AB 5 or the expansion of Proposition 22-like legislation for other sectors are therefore expected while the law and the economy reconcile how to deal with the gig economy.
California-based Hanson Bridgett's labor and employment attorneys are experts in worker classification issues, and are pleased to help companies navigate the frequently-changing rules in California.
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