Newspaper Carriers were Employees, Despite Independent Contractor Agreement, California Court Rules

NewspapersFrom Jackson Lewis Workplace Resource Center — “Under California law, whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor depends upon whether the hiring entity retains “the right to control” the manner and means of the workers’ performance of their duties. Ayala v. Antelope Valley Newspapers, Inc., 59 Cal. 4th 522, 533 (Cal. 2014). In making this determination, the California Supreme Court instructed that courts may consider:

  • whether the work is part of the hiring entity’s regular business;
  • the degree of skill required for the work;
  • whether the worker provides his or her own tools and equipment;
  • whether the worker maintains his or her own business;
  • the length of time of the job;
  • the method of payment; and
  • whether the parties believed that they were creating an employment relationship.

Analysis

Applying the test set forth in Ayala, the trial court ruled the Bee misclassified the carriers as independent contractors when they, in fact, were employees. Significantly, the court found that newspaper delivery was integral to the Bee’s business. The carriers picked up the papers at the Bee’s warehouses and delivered them to the Bee’s customers. Customers contacted the Bee with any complaints regarding delivery service, and the Bee tracked those complaints. The Bee trained the carriers regarding their duties and audited the carriers’ performance.

The court also noted the carriers were not highly skilled and did not supply any special equipment, other than their personal vehicles, to perform the job. The carriers did not hold themselves out as operating independent delivery services, with the Bee as one of their customers. Rather, they often worked for the Bee for many years delivering newspapers. This was inconsistent with their status as independent contractors, who typically are hired for discreet periods of time to perform a specific task, the court pointed out.

Although the agreements stated the carriers were independent contractors, they could not negotiate the terms of their agreements, and the Bee could terminate the agreements at any time. The court also pointed out the Bee deducted customer complaint penalties and insurance premiums from the carriers’ payments. “In short, the parties’ conduct here belies the contrary pronouncement in the form contracts of an independent contractor relationship,” the court stated. Accordingly, the court concluded the carriers were not independent contractors, but instead were the Bee’s employees, and thus entitled to mileage reimbursement and attorneys’ fees….”

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