Court has little affinity for how Affinity treated drivers
June 16, 2014
• Says drivers were employees not independent contractors
• “In the real world, these businesses were in name only”
If a company can control the details of the work performed on its behalf, then the workers are employees, not independent contractors, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals says in a ruling involving a California case.
The decision overturns a trial court that held that the drivers for Affinity Logistics of Georgia were independent contractors.
The drivers originally worked for Penske Logistics Corporation, delivering furniture and appliances for Sears. Affinity Logistics Corporation was given the contract in 2003, however.
An Affinity manager told the drivers that if they wanted to be hired by Affinity, they had to become independent contractors. The drivers were told that they needed a fictitious business name, a business license, and a commercial checking account. Affinity then advised the drivers on how to complete the necessary forms and in at least one case mentioned by the appellate court, went so far as to complete the forms for the driver, leaving only the spaces for his signature blank.
Affinity required the drivers to adhere to a procedures manual that left little room for independent decisions, using phrases such as “must,” “will report,” “must contact,” “required,” “not acceptable,” “100 percent adherence,” and “exactly as specified.”
In addition, the supposedly independent contractors “could not control the order of deliveries; they were instructed in the Procedures Manual to maintain “100 percent adherence” to the manifests created by Affinity,” the appeals decision notes.
“The totality of the undisputed facts indicate that the drivers were Affinity’s employees rather than independent contractors,” the Court of Appeals says, noting that “Affinity had the right to control the details of the drivers’ work, and that Affinity retained all necessary control over the drivers’ work.”
As to the workers setting up their own so-called business, the court was not convinced. “Moreover, in the real world, these businesses were in name only. The drivers’ only business was with Affinity because the drivers could not use their trucks for any purpose other than their work for Affinity.”
The drivers had sued Affinity for allegedly failing to pay them sick leave, vacation, holiday, and severance wages; and improperly charging them workers’ compensation insurance fees. With the federal court decision, those contentions are to be argued in state court.