On September 22, after a court trial before the Honorable Gerrit W. Wood of the Superior Court of Sacramento County, the court, in an unpublished opinion, found that a class of newspaper carriers working for the Sacramento Bee from 2005 through 2009 were improperly classified as independent contractors. Utilizing the standards articulated by the California Supreme Court in S.G. Borello & Sons, Inc. v. Dept. of Ind. Relations, 48 Cal. 3d 341 (1989,) and more recently in Ayala v. Antelope Valley Newspapers, Inc., 59 Cal. 4th 522 (2014), Judge Wood held that the Bee’s parent company, McClatchy, maintained such control over the means in which the newspapers were delivered that it could not properly classify the carriers as independent contractors. The individual class action plaintiffs are now demanding that McClatchy reimburse them all of their mileage expenses in accordance with section 2802 of the California Labor Code, which requires that employees be reimbursed all reasonable expenses incurred in the course of their employment. It remains to be seen if McClatchy will appeal the decision.
Although this decision is not a precedential one, it is important nonetheless as it illustrates the increased focus and scrutiny by plaintiffs’ attorneys and certain government agencies on individuals who are working as independent contractors. California businesses who utilize independent contractors are cautioned to carefully review the circumstances of these workers to make sure that they can make a strong legal argument, under both federal and California law, that the classification is an accurate one. The consequences for misclassification can be broad and include such items as tax liability, liability for unpaid workers’ compensation premiums, liability for stock options and benefits and other entitlements that similarly situated employees receive but independent contractors do not, and liability for unreimbursed expenses.