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The gig economy: What California’s ruling means for business

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The gig economy: What California’s ruling means for business

The gig economy: What California’s ruling means for business 5184 3456 Heidi McLean

Gray areas: the stuff of messy legal battles, public relations disasters, and HR headaches. Among the grayest of the gray is worker classification. While it isn’t a new topic, the gig economy is forcing the worker classification debate to a head, leaving the task of finding clarity to the courts. The latest ruling to make headlines continues to rein in the definition of an employee versus an independent contract. At its most basic, the decision means that it’s now harder to classify workers as independent contractors rather than employees.

1. What are the ruling’s implications?

The definition of independent contractors or employees affects all companies—big and small, gig-economy based or not. Independent contractors are not subject to the same compensation and benefit requirements that employees are. It’s less expensive to engage independent contractors, who are not subject to minimum-wage and overtime laws and are also responsible for their own insurance and payroll taxes. According to this article, the ruling did away with the previous test for determining a worker’s category and replaced it with one in which “the worker is considered an employee if he or she performs a job that is part of the “usual course” of the company’s business.”

According to the same article, the ruling also determined that, “a company must show that it does not control and direct the worker, and that the worker is truly an independent business operator, not just classified that way unilaterally.” So businesses can’t just call someone an IC because it’s convenient for their bottom line.

2. What can companies do to prevent worker classification problems?

That I can answer in one word: systems!

The rules for setting up an independent contractor aren’t always easy to interpret. As demonstrated by this and many other rulings, it’s also ever-changing. In fact, we dedicated a whole section of our website to risk compliance, including this 5-minute worker classification self audit to help you understand the law and avoid costly fines. Fuzzy terms are the kiss of death in all things legal. Having a secure classification partner / system in place is the best antidote to the fuzz.

In addition to setting up independent contractors correctly, having an airtight system in place for consistently payrolling all of those contractors also protects against future headaches.

The bottom line

Confusion over worker classification and inconsistent payment practices can lead to fines, lawsuits, and unhappy workers or customers—all of which are damaging to business. With proper compliance securities in place, businesses rise above the gray fuzz and find a clear path. Rulings like these aren’t made for the businesses who are already operating above board. They’re made for the ones that are either willfully or ignorantly pushing the envelope. Any way you slice it, making sure you get worker classification right up front is worth the investment.


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