Liability insurance policies typically provide two forms of coverage:  (1) coverage for the defense of lawsuits alleging claims covered by the policy in question, and (2) coverage for the settlement of claims covered by the policy in question that the insurer and the insured agree to for payment of a judgment against the insured when a judgment is the result of a covered claim against the insured.

California Assembly Bill 5 (“AB 5”), which codified significant changes to the test for independent contractor status, has caused substantial upheaval for California businesses.  As the statute will likely result in significant litigation over the next several years, California companies are scrambling to guard against its impact where possible.  One potential avenue to do so is the statute’s “business-to-business” exemption.  This alert discusses the requirements businesses must understand if they are to satisfy the criteria of the exemption.

On September 24, 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a final rule modifying the earnings thresholds necessary to exempt executive, administrative and professional employees from the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA) minimum wage and overtime pay requirements. The rule also allows employers to count a portion of certain bonuses/commissions towards meeting the salary level. The thresholds were last updated in 2004, though the DOL briefly adopted more significant changes—which never took effect—in 2015.

The Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) has always contained a two layered statute of limitations for employees to bring lawsuits against their employers for discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.  Formerly, employees had one year to file an administrative complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”) from the date of the alleged discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.  If an employee did not comply with this administrative requirement, then the employee’s complaint would be subject to dismissal for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.  Even if an employee were to file a timely administrative complaint, they were subject to a one year statute of limitations for filing a civil action from the time they received a right to sue letter from the DFEH.  The Stop Harassment and Reporting Extension Act (“SHARE Act”) has greatly expanded employee rights. (AB 9, 2019).

Natural disasters are something that many don’t think about until it’s too late, particularly in the context of their business obligations, but as extreme winds, wildfires, and power outages continue to pick up in California, employers should consider what obligations exist as to their employees and employment law.

On September 12, 2019, the California Supreme Court decided in a unanimous decision that in a Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) action seeking to recover penalties under California Labor Code Section 558, a plaintiff may recover civil penalties but may not recover actual unpaid wages. This is an important decision, which now clearly prevents a plaintiff from seeking both statutory penalties and wages under PAGA (as is often argued by the plaintiff). The high court did, however, reinforce that actions seeking statutory penalties under PAGA cannot be compelled to arbitration.

On August 30, 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed urgency legislation to extend the deadline to provide certain employees required sexual harassment training until January 1, 2021.  (Senate Bill 778).  Last year, Senate Bill 1343 amended Government Code section 12950.1 to require employers with five or more employees to provide two hours of sexual harassment prevention training to all supervisory employees and one hour of sexual harassment prevention training to all nonsupervisory employees by January 1, 2020.   

Can an employee sue his employer for unpaid wages by claiming that his employer and its principals “converted” his personal property to their own use, and that the principals are individually liable for the employer’s conduct? No, held the California Supreme Court in the recent case of Voris v. Lampert, (Cal S Court Case No. S241812), issued on August 15, 2019. 

On June 3, 2019, the United States Supreme Court issued a rare unanimous decision authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in Fort Bend County, Texas v. Davis (2019) — S.Ct. —, 2019 WL 2331306.  The Court held the charge-filing requirements specified in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are not jurisdictional.  If a requirement is jurisdictional, courts may not adjudicate a claim unless the requirement has been met.  Challenges to a court’s subject-matter jurisdiction may be raised by a defendant at any time during litigation.  On the other hand, if a claim-filing requirement is simply a procedural prerequisite to filing a lawsuit, a defendant employer must timely object based on the plaintiff’s failure to comply, or forfeit the objection. 

On May 29, Assembly Bill (AB) 5 passed the California State Assembly, moving Californians one step closer to full implementation of a new test for independent contractor classification. AB5, which was introduced by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego, seeks to codify the California Supreme Court’s April 2018 Dynamex decision, which established the “ABC test” to determine classification of workers as employees or independent contractors.

Since its introduction in December 2018, AB5 has undergone several revisions.  Most significantly, the bill would confirm that the ABC test will be used in making worker classification decisions under California’s Wage Orders, Labor Code, and Unemployment Insurance Code.  Also important is a set of carve-outs that appeared in the most recent iteration of the bill: the ABC test would not apply to doctors, dentists, lawyers, architects, accountants, engineers, insurance agents, investment advisers, direct sellers, real estate agents, hairstylists and barbers renting booths at salons, some marketers, and human resources professionals. 

The California Chamber of Commerce and the “I’m Independent” Coalition are seeking to make additional exemptions to AB5, including carve-outs for short-term projects, business-to-business contracts, and others.

AB5 will now move to the Senate, where it will be heard in Senate Labor Committee in late June 2019.

Guidance for Employers

Though AB5 has not yet been passed into law, California businesses using independent contractors should consult with employment counsel concerning classification of contractors under the Dynamex ABC test.  The authors of this article welcome any questions on the legislation or the ABC test, and are following developments in the law closely. 

For more information and updates about Dynamex and its implications, employers can read our prior Alert on Dynamex here and register for the Firm’s complimentary webinar on this topic here.

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