Category Archives: employment law

Amazon, Walmart and the “Shameless” Economy

Today’s post comes from guest author Rod Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

With holiday shopping in full swing, Gizmodo just ran a long article about how Amazon is using an Uber-like app to hire delivery drivers as independent contractors.

Back in June, I blogged about a Walmart program where Walmart employees were being used to deliver packages. I pointed out in the piece that at least Walmart delivery drivers would be treated as employees in contrast to Fed Ex drivers and now Amazon drivers who have no employment protections like workers compensation or unemployment insurance if they get hurt on the job.

On social media, I’ve pointed out that Walmart actually seems to be better on employee classification than Amazon. That’s a pretty startling admission from me as Walmart has long been a target of criticism for their employment practices from our firm and any other sentient employee rights advocate with a platform.

When I read the Gizmodo article about Amazon, I thought about an episode of Shameless where the ever enterprising Lip underbids illegal aliens on a construction job with a group of rich kids looking to do volunteer work to bolster their college resumes. Up until now, Walmart has been a leader in the low wage economy. But leave it to Amazon to underbid Walmart in the race to the bottom.

Is The NEW GIG A New Bargain For Workers?

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Lost among the din of Twitter feuds and even more serious reporting on tax reform, is attention to a tax bill about gig economy workers that could impact more than just tax policy.

The New Economy Works to Guarantee Independence and Growth Act (NEW GIG Act) essentially allows firms such as Uber to withhold income taxes for workers without that withholding being construed as evidence of an employee-employer relationship. Boston College of Law Professors Shu Yi Oei and Diane Ring perceptively point out that the NEW GIG Act will help define how gig economy workers are classified for purposes of laws that cover employees like anti-discrimination laws, unemployment insurance, wage and hour laws and possibly workers compensation laws. Their argument is that NEW GIG allows companies like Uber to define their workers as contractors within the tax code and that helps creates a presumption of independent contractor status.

Though NEW GIG creates a safe harbor for gig economy companies that collect income taxes, NEW GIG does not abolish the common law test that distinguishes an employee from an independent contractor. The common law test rests on an employer having control over the method and means of work. But the tax code is a critical piece to classification of workers. True contractors are able to deduct their expenses from their taxes because legally they are running a business. Courts hold that when a driver or any other worker is essentially running their own business, they are an independent contractor. NEW GIG uses the tax code to encourage workers to take deductions for expenses and hence self-classify as contractors rather than employees.

Federal employment laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act depend on the so-called common law test distinguishing between contractors and employees. State wage and hour laws, fair employment laws and workers compensation laws may not always rely on those definitions. In cases where a state doesn’t use a common law test to distinguish between employees and contractors, the question would be whether NEW GIG would pre-empt those state lawsNEW GIG does not appear to have an express preemption clause, so courts could tend to uphold state employment laws that would conflict with NEW GIG. Lack of express pre-emption language in NEW GIG may also mean that courts wouldn’t pre-empt state employment laws that rely on the common law test distinguishing contractors from employees. If courts read NEW GIG as just a way for gig economy companies to collect income tax from their workers without creating an employee-employer relationship, then its impact could be muted on state laws and possibly on federal laws.

NEW GIG is sponsored in the Senate by John Thune (R.-South Dakota). Thune has recently criticized Uber for customer data breaches and sexual harassment allegations within the company. Those concerns have been echoed by Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia) who is a leading proponent of the gig economy. (11) The fact that supporters of the gig economy appear to be questioning the practices of Uber could show the gig economy companies may not have an easy time in fundamentally altering the relationship between companies and their workers.

But Uber is not the only gig economy company and public statements by our elected officials don’t always match up with their actions. Even if NEW GIG is just a tax bill there is power in the perceptions and presumptions that would be created if NEW GIG were passed. Advocates for employee rights would be well advised to keep a close watch over the NEW GIG bills in the House and Senate.

Uber: A Tale of Two Cities

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

While London’s ban of ride-hailing service, Uber, seems poised to continue for the forseeable future, Lincoln, Nebraska may soon lessen formal regulation for Uber drivers.

The Lincoln City Council is scheduled to vote on an ordinance on October 16th that would formally eliminate a requirement that Uber and Lyft drivers pass a physical, background check and test about Lincoln that taxi cab drivers currently have to pass in order to drive a taxi in Lincoln.

According to city officials, this requirement is not currently being enforced. The ordinance has the public support of Mayor Chris Beutler and at-large City Councilwoman Leiron Gaylor-Baird. Supporters of the ordinance cite a decrease in drunken driving from ride hailing as well as a decrease in traffic and increase in downtown parking.

Taxi cab companies state the ordinance lets unqualified drivers on the street and presents unfair competition to traditional taxi cab companies. What hasn’t been eluded to in the debate over ride hailing litigation in Lincoln, but has played more prominently in the London debate, is the fact that ride-hailing companies treat their drivers as contractors which excuses them from paying basic employee benefits like unemployment and workers compensation insurance. This allows services like Uber to undercut traditional taxis on price.

The City of Lincoln doesn’t have a workers’ compensation ordinance. But allowing Uber competitive advantages over taxi cab companies indirectly impacts workers compensation because if Uber takes market share away from traditional taxi cabs fewer drivers will be covered under workers compensation.

Lincoln does a have a human rights ordinance that covers more employees than either state or federal anti-discrimination laws. By allowing Uber a competitive advantage over traditional taxi cab companies, Lincoln is potentially excluding workers from coverage of that ordinance since Uber denies it is an employer. Traditional taxi cab companies are subject to Lincoln’s human rights ordinance.

Many business observers have argued that Uber’s biggest innovation is “regulatory arbitrage.” Regulatory arbitrage is a fancy word for lobbying. Uber hired former Obama advisor David Plouffe. In the United Kingdom, Uber’s chief lobbyist is the godfather to one of the children for former Prime Minister David Cameron. It’s safe to state that a lot of Uber’s supposed innovation stems from old-fashioned lobbying.

Other cities, most prominently Austin, Texas, have attempted to regulate Uber by imposing the same requirements on ride hailing drivers that they do on taxi drivers. Uber was able to successfully lobby the Texas Legislature to pass a state law that preempted municipal regulation of ride-hailing services.

Though the tech sector is regarded by some as an advocate for LGBT rights, Uber was willing to accept an amendment to the Texas preemption legislation that promoted discrimination against transgender individuals.

News Tribune: El Gaucho Restaurant Agrees to pay $1.5 million to Settle Lawsuit

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Wright.


El Gaucho has agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle claims it improperly withheld wages and tips from employees working at some of its high-end restaurants, including the Tacoma location.

The proposed settlement is in response to a 2016 lawsuit originally brought against the company by a former server at the Tacoma restaurant, who alleged managers withheld tips and required off-the-clock work, among other labor-law violations.

About 400 current and former employees at the Tacoma, Bellevue and Seattle restaurants are affected and will be notified, according to the settlement, which was preliminarily approved by Pierce County Superior Court Judge G. Helen Whitener Nov. 17. Whitener will decide whether to finalize the settlement at a hearing April 20.

Chad Mackay, CEO of El Gaucho’s operating company, said in a statement Tuesday: “Our company consistently strives to be a great place for our employees to build their careers and we provide excellent compensation, benefits, training and work environment. Our decisions are always based on what is right for our team, our guests and our company. Therefore, we chose to settle this lawsuit rather than continue to spend company resources on legal fees.”

The former Tacoma server, Matthew Blasco, alleged El Gaucho gave employees cards with restaurant credit in lieu of payment for off-the-clock work, such as prep work or cleaning, and that servers were sometimes required to work without being clocked in.

His lawsuit also accused the company of giving management a percentage of the tips, and denying or not paying workers for breaks that are required by state law.

Read the rest of The News Tribune story here…

Photo by sniggie on / CC BY-NC-SA

Read more here:
Read more here:

Study: Work Injuries Could Increase Risk of Losing Job

Today’s post comes from guest author Rod Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

“Compared to colleagues reporting no injuries, workers who were hurt were more than twice as likely to be fired in the next six months. … After one year, 30 percent of workers had been injured at work and about a quarter were no longer employed at that job after 18 months.”

Can you guess specifics about the quote above, or at least start with figuring out which industry the quote is talking about?

The answer may surprise you (or maybe not, if you or a loved one have worked in this industry): it’s results that “used data from a study done by the Work, Family and Health Network involving direct care workers from 30 nursing homes across New England,” according to the study’s lead author. Cassandra Okechukwu, the lead author, offered that the study’s “original goal was to examine workplace policies meant to improve workers’ health, safety, and wellbeing.”

I am glad that Okechukwu and her team followed the data where it led, even though that wasn’t the original intent of the study. I am also glad that Madeline Kennedy wrote about the study’s results at this link via Reuters Health.

“The results also indicate that federal and state-level regulations, which are supposed to protect workers from being fired after injuries and to give workers compensation and sufficient time to recover from an injury, may not always be followed,” Kennedy wrote.

The study included 1,331 nursing home workers who completed interviews at six-month intervals and reported injuries and job changes for the previous six months in each interview, according to Kennedy. “Nine in 10 of the participants were women, and more than two thirds were certified nursing assistants.”

“Workers who had been injured multiple times were also twice as likely to quit their jobs in the next six months as colleagues with no injuries, the study found. … Compared with people who were not injured, injured workers were 30 percent more likely to no longer be in their jobs within six months of the injury, whether voluntarily or involuntarily.

“People who were injured more than once were more likely to choose to leave their jobs than people with no injuries, while people injured only once were more likely to be fired.”

Why workers are being fired is a question that needs to be examined in another study, according to Okechukwu. I would add that additional research always needs to be done, and I hope someone addresses this issue, as I think it is very important to know about for injured workers and those of us who work with and care for them.

Another researcher Kennedy quoted in the Reuters article who wasn’t involved in the study was Peter Smith, from the Institute for Work and Health at the University of Toronto.

Smith suggested that “workers may be fired because their employers feel they can no longer perform the job duties, or due to worries that they will be injured again,” or that workers elect to leave their jobs because they’re scared of being hurt.

“‘Work is not supposed to lead to injury,’ Smith said, and employers should give workers resources to protect their health and earnings. ‘Measures must be put in place to ensure that employers do not fire or discipline workers because they have had a work-related injury,’ he said.” 

If you or a loved one have questions about a work-related injury or suspect you’ve been fired because of an injury at work, please speak with an experienced lawyer.

Department of Labor Weighs In on New Age of Salary Servitude for ‘Executives’

Today’s post comes from guest author Roger Moore, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Most of the U.S. workforce has the right, provided by the Fair Labor Standards Act, to be paid overtime for working more than 40 hours in a week. Before the federal government set rules for overtime, most employees worked longer hours, and millions of Americans worked six or seven days a week, as Chinese factory workers do today. Salaried workers also have the right to be paid a premium for overtime work, unless they fall into an exempt category as a professional, an administrator, or an executive. Exempt employees must be skilled and exercise independent judgment, or be a boss with employees to supervise. However, many companies have worked to get around these overtime rules by classifying employees like cooks, convenience store employees or restaurant workers as “managers,” “supervisors,” or “assistant managers or supervisors,” so that their employer can deny them overtime under this exception. 

In May 2016, the Department of Labor issued its final rule establishing a new minimum salary threshold for the white-collar exemptions (executive, administrative and professional) under the Fair Labor Standards Act. This new threshold of $913 per week ($47,476 annualized) more than doubles the current minimum weekly salary threshold of $455 per week ($23,660 annualized).  While that may seem like a huge increase, the old threshold level is only $2 a week above the poverty level for a family of four. Twenty-one states have filed suit to challenge this rule, citing the rule will force many businesses, including state and local governments, to unfairly and substantially increase their employment costs. 

The old rule allowed companies to put employees on “salary” at a low rate and require them to work sometimes significant overtime. The fact that so many government entities are concerned about this new rule substantially increasing their employment costs underscores the extent to which even government entities have taken advantage of employees in this fashion. Can you imagine earning $25,000/year and having to work 50, 60 or 70 hours a week? Even at 50 hours a week, that equates to an hourly wage of only $8.01!

In the first year, the department estimates that the new rule may affect, in some manner, over 10 million workers who earn between $455/week and the new $913/week threshold.  

The median worker has seen a wage increase of just 5 percent between 1979 and 2012, despite overall productivity growth of 74.5 percent (Mishel and Shierholz, 2013), according to the Economic Policy Institute. One reason Americans’ paychecks are not keeping pace with their productivity is that millions of middle-class and even lower-middle-class workers are working overtime and not getting paid for it. Before this rule change, the federal wage and hour law was out of date. This change purports to correct this modern day servitude that the law – for the last 30 years – has carved out a huge exception, allowing workers to be taken advantage of simply by assigning them a title and paying them a salary.  



Back In The game Or Back To Work Too Soon?

Senator Dan Quick has introduced employee-friendly legislation

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Last weekend’s Big 10 Conference football championship game between Ohio State and Wisconsin contained some off-the-field controversy when former Wisconsin Badger and current Cleveland Browns player, Joe Thomas, criticized the fact that Ohio State starting quarterback J.T. Barrett was playing in the game six days after arthroscopic knee surgery.

While Barrett lead the Buckeyes to victory with 211 passing yards and 60 rushing yards, Thomas argued that college players should have the option of a second opinion when it comes to major surgeries like players do in the NFL. Thomas argued that team doctors are overly influenced by coaches who want players to return to action as soon as possible and that college players are over eager to return to the field.

A similar issue will be debated in Nebraska’s legislature next month. Senator Dan Quick of Grand Island has a bill on the floor that would require an employer to pay for a second opinion if an employee disputes a finding from a doctor paid for by the employer. Quick’s bill was inspired by his experience of being sent back to work prematurely by a doctor chosen by his employer’s workers compensation insurer.

Quick is an electrician by trade and is one of the few blue-collar workers who serves in the Nebraska Legislature. Another blue-collar worker, Lee Carter, was recently elected to the legislature in Virginia. Like Quick, Carter had a bad experience after a work injury. Carter had his hours reduced after his accident and was unable to find a lawyer because of confusion over which state had jurisdiction over his work injury.

Blue collar workers running for office may be a trend as iron worker Randy Bryce is running for Congress against House Speaker Paul Ryan and Wisconsin Firefighter’s union president Mahlon Mitchell is running for Governor of Wisconsin. I am encouraged that people like Dan Quick and Lee Carter have taken their bad experiences after work injuries and have gone into politics to directly address the problems they  faced first hand and make sure other workers will have better experiences if they get hurt on the job.

What Do You Mean, I Can’t Sue My Employer?

OSHA find the owner of the Didion Milling Plant in connection with an explosion that killed 2 workers and injured several more.

Today’s post comes from guest author Thomas Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

I sat down this morning with a television reporter interviewing me about a horrific explosion in Wisconsin that killed 5 workers and injured many more.  The explosion on May 31, 2017 at the Didion Ethanol Plant in Cambria, Wisconsin occurred when corn dust exploded, destroying the entire plant.  OSHA hit the company with a $1.8 million fine, calling it a preventable explosion.

The reporter’s question to me was “Why can’t the employees sue their employer?”  The answer goes back over 100 years in Wisconsin to the “Grand Bargain” that was struck between management and labor.  Sometimes referred to as the “great tradeoff,” employees traded away their right to sue their employer, even for egregious safety violations, in return for wage loss and medical benefits to be paid regardless of fault.  The goal was to relieve the injured employee from the burden of paying for medical care and replace lost wages.  At the turn of the 20th Century, Wisconsin workplaces were often dangerous places, and employers had little incentive to make them safer.  Injured workers could rarely afford the kind of legal cost for recovery efforts in court and employers benefitted by use of contributory negligence, assumption of risk and co-employee negligence as bars to an employee’s recovery in court.

The administrative system that was established by worker’s compensation was created to provide a direct remedy to the employer and to limit (by Exclusive Remedy) litigation against the employer.  The system was supposed to insure a method of providing benefits to an injured employee during the period of disability and to ensure the employees were not reduced to poverty because of injuries.

Speed, dependability, and financial assistance were components of the new system, and by making employers responsible for injury, the law offered strong incentives to make workplaces safer.  Unfortunately, that has not occurred.  The latest statistics indicate that over 100 people die annually in Wisconsin and over 5,000 annually across the nation.

Revealing to a grieving widow that the remedy available is limited to four times the deceased worker’s annual income is precious little consolation for loss of a spouse’s life and lifetime income.