Written By Erin C. Horton
Not gonna happen. That’s what the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts basically concluded about independent contractor arrangements in Massachusetts.
In Anderson v. Home Delivery America, plaintiffs delivered Sears and K-Mart products for Home Delivery America (“HDA”). Three of the four plaintiffs contracted with HDA through various business forms such as corporations and limited liability companies. All of the drivers drove their own trucks—not HDA vehicles—and employed and paid a “helper” to assist them with deliveries. The fourth plaintiff did not contract at all with HDA, but rather was hired and paid by one of the drivers as a “helper.” At the same time, the plaintiffs each worked exclusively for HDA, delivered goods according to HDA’s daily manifests, and wore uniforms bearing the HDA logo.
The Anderson court found that, as a matter of law, all four of the plaintiffs—the three drivers and the helper—were HDA employees and not independent contractors under the Massachusetts Independent Contractor Law, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 149, § 148B.
As to the three drivers, the court reasoned that allowing employers to shirk their unemployment and other obligations merely because some workers choose to contract as “businesses” instead of as individuals would honor form over substance. In particular, the court noted that the drivers did not provide services to any other employers and managed no delivery operations beyond their own HDA deliveries.
As to the hired “helper,” the court was not swayed by the fact that his contract was with the driver, not with HDA, and that the driver rather than HDA was responsible for paying him. The court, instead, relied upon the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s recent opinion in Depianti v. Jan-Pro Franchising Int’l, Inc., in which it opined that “the lack of a contract for service between the putative employer and putative employee does not itself preclude liability under [Massachusetts Independent Contractor Law]” and noted that the driver was required to wear an HDA uniform and undergo drug testing by HDA.
I am writing about this case, precisely because there is nothing extraordinary about it. Anderson reminds us that the presumption of employment is strong and will consistently trump form (be it corporate structure or lack of a direct contract). Most often, the facts fall on both sides in independent contractor analyses and a judgment call must be made. As an employer, if you’ve found yourself thinking, “but these workers are different,” keep Anderson and the countless cases like it in mind and proceed with caution. Seeking an opinion from an experienced attorney is advised.