New California Independent Contractor Law Takes Effect January 1

Several months ago, the California Supreme Court established a new test for determining whether a worker should be classified as an employee or an independent contractor. Now that test will be enshrined in law on January 1, 2020, as the California legislature has passed AB-5.

Here is the standard classification test under the new law:

A worker will be considered an employee, rather than an independent contractor, unless the hiring entity can demonstrate all of the following:

  1. The person is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the work and in fact
  2. The person performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business
  3. The person is customarily engaged in an independently-established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as that involved in the work performed

A couple of points are worthy of emphasis. First, the presumption is that a worker is an employee. That is the default classification. Second, as I pointed out in my earlier post on the subject, a lot of companies are going to get hung up on the second prong – that the worker must be performing work outside of the usual course of the hiring entity’s business. So delivery companies like Fedex and UPS are going to have a hard time classifying delivery drivers as contractors, and software companies like Google and Facebook are going to have a hard time classifying software developers as contractors.

As you might expect, the lobbyists were working hard on this bill, and there are a lot of exceptions. One of the biggest exceptions is for business-to-business contracting relationships. The standard test will not apply if all of the following are satisfied:

  1. The business service provider is free from the control and direction of the contracting business in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the work and in fact;
  2. The service provider is providing services directly to the contracting business, rather than to customers of the contracting business;
  3. The contract is in writing;
  4. If the work is performed in a jurisdiction that requires the service provider to have a business license or business tax registration, the service provider has the required license or tax registration;
  5. The service provider maintains a business location that is separate from the business or work location of the contracting business;
  6. The service provider is customarily engaged in an independently-established business of the same nature as that involved in the work performed;
  7. The service provider actually contracts with other businesses to provide the same or similar services and maintains a clientele without restrictions from the hiring entity;
  8. The service provider advertises and holds itself out to the public as available to provide the same or similar services;
  9. The service provider provides its own tools, vehicles, and equipment to perform the services;
  10. The service provider can negotiate its own rates; and
  11. Consistent with the nature of the work, the service provider can set its own hours and location of work.

Finally, there are a number of exemptions based on occupation. Here are some examples:

  1. Physicians, surgeons, dentists, podiatrists, psychologists, veterinarians
  2. Lawyers, architects, engineers, private investigators, accountants
  3. Securities broker-dealers or investment advisors
  4. Direct sales salespersons
  5. Certain professional services – marketing, human resources administrators, travel agents, graphics design, grant writers, payment processing agents, licensed estheticians, licensed electrologists, licensed manicurists, licensed barbers, licensed cosmetologists, freelance writers

Please note that for some of these occupation-based exemptions, there are additional requirements that must be met. If you need further information on how a worker should be classified, please contact us.

 

 

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Vermont Passes Strictest Subscription Renewal Law

Companies that offer subscriptions that renew automatically now have to pay attention to tiny Vermont, which just passed the strictest automatic renewal law in the country. Several states, including California, have laws governing subscription renewals that require sellers to clearly and conspicuously present the terms of the offer, get express consent from the consumer, provide an easy method to cancel, and send a reminder prior to the start of a renewal term. Vermont’s law adds two new twists, however. First, the auto-renewal provision must be presented in boldface type. Second, consumers have to take two actions to accept the renewal offer.

California, which prior to passage of the Vermont law had perhaps the most restrictive law on the subject, gives companies a great deal of latitude in deciding how to meet the “clear and conspicuous” standard – it can be boldface, larger type face than surrounding text, contrasting color or font, or text that is set off by surrounding text by symbols or other marks. Vermont’s law will give no such latitude. If the renewal plan text is larger font, contrasting color, and surrounded by symbols, but is not in boldface, it will not comply.

The two-action consent requirement means that in both online and written offers, the company must get a consumer’s consent through both:

  1. A check box, signature, or other similar method that shows consent specifically to the auto-renewal terms, and
  2. A separate consent (like a “Submit” or “Purchase Now” button) to the overall order.

The Vermont law covers both business-to-consumer and business-to-business subscriptions, although there is an exemption for insurance contracts and contracts between a consumer and a financial institution or credit union. By including B2B, the Vermont law goes well beyond California’s law, which only protects consumers. This means a wide variety of SaaS businesses need to look at their subscription and renewal practices, if they are doing business with Vermont companies.

Vermont’s new law will take effect on July 1, 2019, and only applies to contracts with an initial term of one year or more, and subsequent terms that are longer than one month. So, if a company offers a product or service with an initial term of less than a year, and the term renews on a monthly, quarterly, or semi-annual basis, the company is not covered. Similarly, companies that offer simple monthly subscriptions, like many streaming services and subscription boxes, are not covered. Many magazine subscriptions have an initial term of one year, and typically renew for terms of a year, so these most likely will be covered by the new law.

 

California’s Subscription Renewal Law About To Change

On July 1, 2018, California’s subscription auto-renewal law is about to change in a couple of important ways. This law applies to e-commerce vendors who sell to consumers on a subscription basis, where the subscription renews automatically. For example, companies that offer subscription box services are generally subject to this law. Under the law as it currently stands, vendors must disclose the terms of the automatic renewal policy in a clear and conspicuous manner at the time of the original purchase, get the consumer’s affirmative consent before charging the consumer, and explain how to cancel the subscription.

Beginning July 1, vendors will have to allow online cancellation if the subscription was originally commenced online. Such vendors cannot require that their customers use phone or snail-mail to cancel. Also, if the subscription offer includes a free gift, trial subscription, or promotional pricing, vendors must notify consumers how to cancel before they are charged (or before the promotional pricing expires and they are charged full price). Vendors must explain the price to be charged when the promotion or free trial ends. If the initial offer is at a promotional price that will increase later, the vendor must obtain the consumer’s consent to the non-discounted price prior to billing.

Auto-renewing subscriptions have been fertile ground for California class action attorneys, who have made a cottage industry out of shaking down vendors that fail to comply with the state law. Consequently, it’s important for any company whose business model is based on consumer subscriptions that renew automatically to update their terms of service and selling processes before the new law takes effect. It doesn’t matter if the company isn’t based in California, either – the law applies if the consumer is a resident of California. Finally, keep in mind that more than half of US states have a law dealing with auto-renewing subscriptions.

California Adopts New Independent Contractor Test

In a recent case, the California Supreme Court adopted a new standard for determining when a worker is an independent contractor, and when a worker is an employee. This is a major departure from how workers have been classified in the past, and will have far-reaching effects on employment and the gig economy.

The case, Dynamex Operations West, Inc. vs. Superior Court, involved delivery drivers for a parcel delivery company. Under the new, 3-factor “ABC” test adopted by the Court, a worker is presumed to be an employee, and will only be considered an independent contractor if:

1. The worker is free from the control and direction of the hirer in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract and in fact;
2. The worker is performing work that is outside the usual course of the hirer’s business; and
3. The worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work being performed.

All three factors must be satisfied, or the worker will be re-classified as an employee. In adopting the new ABC test, the Court abandoned the traditional “right to control” test, which looked at numerous indicators of control, none of which was dispositive.

To see how this new test will play out, let’s look at an example of a software company that engages software developers, but wants to classify them as contractors. The company may tell the developer that it needs software in place to protect data security from hackers. The company may not give the developer any directions as to how to write the code for that software, and may not require the developer to do the work onsite, which may satisfy the first part of the ABC test. Also, the developer may be doing a lot of freelancing in the area of data security for different companies, satisfying the third part of the test. The problem is the second part. If the company is a software company, then software development could very likely be considered within the usual course of its business. The same analysis might apply to a package delivery company that wants to classify its delivery persons as contractors. On the other hand, a retail clothing chain that hires a software developer to work on its customer database may have a better chance of classifying that developer as a contractor.

Consequently, companies in California that use contractors need to take a hard look at how the relationship is set up. It is quite likely that under the new ABC test, many of those contractors will need to be reclassified as employees.

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Trump Administration Jeopardizes Legal Cannabis Industry

News sources are reporting that Attorney General Jeff Sessions plans on rescinding the Cole Memo, an Obama-administration policy statement that essentially took a federal hands-off approach toward cannabis businesses that are legal and compliant under state law. The Cole Memo provided a moderate amount of predictability for these medical and recreational cannabis businesses, allowing them to operate without too much concern that DEA agents would roll up their operations. Marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug, and therefore is illegal under federal law. According to the news reports, the new approach will allow federal prosecutors in states where cannabis is legal decide how aggressively they want to enforce federal laws relating to marijuana.

As of September 14, 2017, 29 states plus the District of Columbia had legalized marijuana in some form. Most of those states had legalized medical marijuana, but 8 states have legalized marijuana for recreational use. California’s recreational marijuana law became effective January 1, 2018. Ohio, which recently legalized medical marijuana, has already started evaluating and issuing permits for cultivation, processing, and retail. According to Arcview Market Research, legal marijuana sales in North America were approximately $9.7 billion in 2017, an increase of 33% over 2016. Arcview also predicts that the entire legal cannabis market could reach $24.5 billion in sales by 2021. In Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal, sales now exceed $1 billion a year, and thousands of people have jobs in cannabis-related businesses. Moreover, a Gallup poll released in October 2017 indicates that 64% of Americans support legalizing marijuana for both recreational and medicinal use. That includes support from 51% of Republicans, an increase from 43% Republican support during the previous year’s poll.

Consequently, the new action jeopardizes an economic sector that is showing dramatic growth and potential. Even if federal prosecutors decide to pursue more important priorities, like illegal opioid sales, the uncertainty could chill potential investment in cannabis-related businesses. For example, a Legal 1 cultivator application fee for Ohio costs $20,000. The initial Level 1 cultivator license fee is $180,000, and the annual license renewal fee is $200,000. Investors are going to be reluctant to commit that level of funds to an operation that could be raided by an overly-zealous federal prosecutor.