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Federal judge: 40-year newspaper carrier is legally an employee

Under California law, the question of whether someone is an employee or a contractor is a legal one. Your employer doesn’t just get to pick whether you are an employee or an independent contractor. To be considered an independent contractor, you have to have significant control over the details of doing your job.

Employees are not only entitled to employer-sponsored benefits like healthcare and life insurance, but they are also entitled to job protections such as:

  • Employer-paid payroll taxes
  • Unemployment insurance
  • Workers’ compensation insurance
  • Reimbursement for business-related expenses
  • The minimum wage and overtime premium

So, when a San Francisco Chronicle newspaper carrier signed a new contract, he wondered whether he was still an independent contractor. He had been delivering the Chronicle for years when the paper was taken over in 2008 by Hearst Communications. The new contract he signed said he was now a “newspaper dealer,” not a “newspaper carrier,” and it gave him new responsibilities.

Ultimately, he sued Hearst, alleging misclassification as a contractor and seven other violations of the California Labor Code. The case was just heard by a federal judge, who agreed that Hearst contract made the man legally an employee.

This is because the contract with Hearst clearly laid out detailed aspects of how the job of newspaper dealer is to be performed, including:

  • Delivering the papers in readable condition no later than 6 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 7:30 a.m. on Sundays
  • Specific hours and location where the newspapers are to be picked up the night before, including a breach of contract clause if the papers are not picked up on time
  • Subleasing the space he used for sorting and packaging the papers from Hearst

Hearst argued that the man had substantial freedom in doing his work. He could, for example, choose what vehicle he uses to deliver the papers and lay out his own delivery route, as long as the papers are delivered to all customers on time. It also argued that he could choose another location to sort and package the papers.

The federal judge determined that these contracts controlled the details of the job. Combined with the fact that the man had exclusively delivered for the Chronicle for nearly 40 years indicated that he was an employee, not a contractor.

Are you wrongly classified as an independent contractor?

If you have been wrongly classified as a contractor, you could be missing out on important pay guarantees and benefits. California has been making changes to the classification process, including making some “gig economy” workers legally employees of the companies they serve.

If you may have been misclassified, contact an experienced employment law attorney to discuss your concerns and legal options.