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ABC Standard for Determining Employment Relationship Does Not Apply to Labor Code Claims

The San Diego division of the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled that the ABC test for employment established by the Supreme Court’s Dynamex decision is limited to claims under California’s wage orders. In Garcia v. Border Transportation Group, LLC, Case No. D072521 (10/22/2018), the Court ruled that a plaintiff’s claims for (1) failure to pay overtime under Labor Code section 510, (2) waiting time penalties under Labor Code section 203, (3) Unfair Competition Law claims based on those violations, and (4) wrongful termination in violation of public policy were governed by the factors established in the Borello decision.

Garcia was a driver for a cab company that owned 30 of the 45 permits issued by the City of Calexico for taxicab service. To drive a taxicab, a person had to obtain a City driver’s permit, which could only be used while employed by an identified cab company. To work for a different cab company, the driver would have to obtain an updated permit. He sued the cab company for a number of wage and hour violations, some under California Wage Order No. 9, some under the Labor Code, some under the Unfair Competition Law, and one for wrongful termination in violation of public policy. The trial court granted summary judgment for the cab company, based on the Borello standard, in  a decision handed down before the Supreme Court issued its Dynamex decision on 4/30/2018.

In Borello, the Supreme Court had explained that the principal test for determining whether an employment relationship existed was whether the recipient of the worker’s services “has the right to control the manner and means of accomplishing the result desired.” It also identified the following “secondary indicia” of an employment relationship: “(a) whether the one performing services is engaged in a distinct occupation or business; (b) the kind of occupation, with reference to whether, in the locality, the work is usually done under the direction of the principal or by a specialist without supervision; (c) the skill required in the particular occupation; (d) whether the principal or the worker supplies the instrumentalities, tools, and the place of work for the person doing the work; (e) the length of time for which the services are to be performed; (f) the method of payment, whether by the time or by the job; (g) whether or not the work is a part of the regular business of the principal; and (h) whether or not the parties believe they are creating the relationship of employer-employee.”

In Dynamex, the Supreme Court ruled that a more expansive definition was more appropriate for wage claims brought under one of the wage orders. It adopted the “ABC test,” used in many other jurisdictions to decide whether an employment relationship existed. That test presumes that a worker is an employee, unless the person who engaged the worker’s services establishes allof the following: “(A) that the worker is free from the control and direction of the hirer in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of such work and in fact; (B) that the worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business; and (C) that the worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed for the hiring entity.”

The Court of Appeal ruled that the ABC test should not be applied outside the wage order context. That is where the language on which the Supreme Court relied in adopting the test appears. Further, the wage orders warrant a broader definition, because they were intended to regulate very basic working conditions that should be extended to the widest class of workers. Application of the ABC test to the facts before the Court compelled reversal of summary adjudication of the wage orders claims. Although Borello applied to the other claims, the Court of Appeal did not decide whether there was a triable issue under that standard, because Garcia’s brief did not adequately raise the issue.

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