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Worker classification and small businesses

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Worker classification and small businesses

Worker classification and small businesses 4858 3239 Heidi McLean

Is the ABC rule the beginning of the end?

California—home of eternal sunshine and landmark lawsuits. One of the state’s most recent rulings, in the Dynamex Operations West Inc. v. The Superior Court of Los Angeles County case, resulted in some changes to the ABC test for worker classification. While the test has existed in some form for decades, this iteration eliminates some of the gray area in deciding whether a worker is an employee or not. It’s the narrowest definition of an independent contractor to date.

This ruling has already caused major changes in the Golden State and, if history is any indicator, may have a cascading effect for the rest of us. We hear a lot about worker classification and the big dogs—the Ubers and the FedExes of the world. Today, we’re looking into what it means for the mom and pop shops and the workers they employ.

What is the ABC test for worker classification?

In California, a worker can now be considered an independent contractor only if all of the following apply:

A: the worker 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 performance of the work and in fact;

B: the worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business; and

C: the worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed.

Okay, so what’s at stake?

According to the court’s ruling, “the misclassification of workers as independent contractors rather than employees is a very serious problem, depriving federal and state governments of billions of dollars in tax revenue.” Read: money. For the government, tax dollars are a big part of the equation. Small businesses can avoid certain taxes with fewer employees and independent contractors can write off business expenses and may also underreport their income. Hence the resulting “deprivation.”

And for small businesses such as salons? Well it’s the B of the ABCs that’s upsetting the mom and pop apple cart because their workers perform work that is decidedly within “the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.” According to the business owner in this article, the previous model allows them to keep their doors open. They say they can’t afford to pay their workers as employees and provide the benefits required by law. So with the switch, many of this business owner’s workers quit overnight. Many employers and workers alike viewed the previous arrangement as a symbiotic relationship that worked well for both the business owners and the workers they employed.

This website, for cosmetologists, describes the benefits independent contractors have in the “booth rental” model. Like any independent contractor, they set their own schedule and manage their own business. They also keep any earnings beyond their booth rental fee. That means the harder they work and the more loyal clients they secure, the more they earn. As part of the salon, they get the benefit of the establishment’s marketing as well as possible walk-in clients. On the flip side, they also have the not-so-sexy responsibilities that come with owning their own business. They run their own books, pay quarterly taxes, advertise to get their chair filled, purchase their own equipment, and deal with the seasonal nature of the biz. Independent contractors also don’t get paid time off and are responsible for purchasing their own health insurance.

What about the workers?

Okay, so what’s a hairstylist to do? Well, the rule purportedly intends at least in part to protect them and provide “the labor law protections to which they are entitled.” But some are concerned about what the change means for their livelihood. If you spend a little time reading threads dedicated to salon workers and truckers, who often work as independent contractors, you’ll find discussions among people trying to figure out how to navigate this new landscape.

They may choose to accept the lower pay along with the guarantees and security that come with being an employee. That is, if traditional salons operating under the booth rental model decide to stay open. Or they can set up their own truly independent businesses, perhaps operating out of their homes and skipping the salon altogether. This will work better for those with an existing loyal client base. For those just entering the field, it remains to be seen.

Bottom line

If you’re outside of California, don’t think this doesn’t directly affect you. Other states are already starting to use the ABC test too (i.e. Illinois, New Jersey, Maine and Massachusetts). And this isn’t just about salons. Many other operations, from physical therapists to those delivering packages to your door, are affected by this change. Often, in cases like these, one landmark case paves the way for others to follow—begrudgingly though the case may be. So even if you don’t personally feel the effect of the changes, you probably will before long. And what about your haircuts? Are you ready to go to your stylist’s home? Soon, it may be one of your only choices for the services you know and love.


Note: Can’t get enough? We’ve covered misclassification in depth. See more here.

About PayReel:

At PayReel, we minimize the time and effort it takes to get you ready for your project. Rely on PayReel to assume all of the risk associated with worker classification and get back to the business at hand. We make sure you get everyone gets paid quick and easy, and have Client Relationship Managers on call around the clock to answer your questions. All you have to do is call 303-526-4900 or email us. The PayReel team makes live event, corporate media, and brand management payroll easier, faster, and seamless.