New Jersey’s Appellate Division Finds Part C of the “ABC” Independent Contractor Test Does Not Require an Independent Business

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From The National Law Review, Patrick G. Brady and James J. Sawczyn discuss a recent New Jersey case that says Part C of the ABC test can be satisfied as long as the worker will not join the ranks of the unemployed if the business relationship ends.  They write:

In a potentially significant decision following the New Jersey Supreme Court’s ruling in Hargrove v. Sleepy’s, LLC, 220 N.J. 289 (2015), a New Jersey appellate panel held, in Garden State Fireworks, Inc. v. New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (“Sleepy’s”), Docket No. A-1581-15T2, 2017 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2468 (App. Div. Sept. 29, 2017), that part C of the “ABC” test does not require an individual to operate an independent business engaged in the same services as that provided to the putative employer to be considered an independent contractor.  Rather, the key inquiry for part C of the “ABC” test is whether the worker will “join the ranks of the unemployed” when the business relationship ends.

In applying the “ABC” test, the panel rejected the Commissioner’s interpretation of part C to require an “independently established enterprise or business,” even though this interpretation appears to be consistent with other unpublished appellate division decisions applying the “ABC” test in different factual contexts post-Sleepy’s.  For example, in N.E.I. Jewelmasters of New Jersey, Inc. v. Board of Review, Docket No. A-2333-14T3, 2016 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1456 (App. Div. June 24, 2016), a panel held that “[s]atisfaction of [part] C requires a clear showing that a viable independent business exists apart from the particular contractual relationship at issue.”  The panel found that part C was not satisfied in that case because: the sales/marketing employee lacked “an independently established business”; she worked solely for one employer; and “her termination rendered her unemployed.”  Moreover, in ABS Group Services v. Board of Review, Docket No. A-1847-12T3, 2016 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 989 (App. Div. Apr. 27, 2016), a panel required evidence that the employee, a certified boiler and pressure vessel inspector, was engaged in an independent business to satisfy part C.  Because the employee was dependent upon the employer for his livelihood and did not have a business of his own, the panel concluded that part C was not satisfied.

In Garden State Fireworks, the panel construed “independent business” in part C to include separate employment that continues despite the termination of the challenged relationship.  In so finding, the panel relied on Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc. v. Board of Review, 397 N.J. Super. 309, 323 (App. Div. 2007), for the assertion that part C is satisfied “when a person has a business, trade, occupation, or profession that will clearly continue despite termination of the challenged relationship.” Philadelphia Newspapers, in turn, relies on Carpet Remnant Warehouse, Inc. v. New Jersey Department of Labor, 125 N.J. 567 (1991). Carpet Remnant cites to Trauma Nurses, Inc. v. Board of Review, 242 N.J. Super. 135, 148 (App. Div. 1990), noting parenthetically that nurses are engaged in an independently established profession that can satisfy part C where it can be shown that they work for brokers and/or hospitals performing varying types of work, such as part-time, full-time, and shift work.

Sleepy’s recites a similar interpretation of part C, although Sleepy’s is not cited in Garden State Fireworks.  The court in Sleepy’s indicated that part C “calls for an enterprise that exists and can continue to exist independently of and apart from the particular service relationship,” quoting Gilchrist v. Division of Employment Security, 48 N.J. Super. 147 (App. Div. 1957).  Notably, the Sleepy’s court recited language from case law that uses the broader term “enterprise” instead of “independently established business,” which is a phrase that implies that the worker in question must be a business owner.  Further, like Garden State FireworksSleepy’s notes that part C requires “a profession that will plainly persist despite the termination of the challenged relationship,” citing to Trauma Nurses.  Moreover, the Sleepy’s court stated that if the individual joins “the ranks of the unemployed,” part C is not satisfied.  Thus, the panel’s interpretation of part C’s “independent-business test” in Garden State Fireworks appears to be consistent with court’s interpretation of part C in Sleepy’s.

In addition, the panel did not interpret part C to require that the independently established profession be of the same nature as the service provided to the putative employer. This requirement exists in the “ABC” test of some states, such as Connecticut, Delaware, and Massachusetts, although no such requirement has been found under New Jersey law pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:21-19(i)(6)(C) or case law.  While Trauma Nurses is an example of a case where an appellate panel found that part C was satisfied where the putative employees were able to provide the same service in the same industry following the conclusion of the relationship with the putative employer, the panel in Trauma Nurses did not hold that providing the same service in the same industry is a necessary component of part C.  The panel in Garden State Fireworks also did not find service in the same industry to be necessary to satisfy part C, implicitly stating that an employee who only works for a company one to three times a year while working full time elsewhere is not an employee of that company under part C even if the full-time employment is in a different industry.  Likewise, the ALJ discerned that part C does not require that the “independently established trade, occupation, profession or business . . . be part of the same industry.”

Another noteworthy observation from Garden State Fireworks is that the panel found, without directly addressing the issue, that pyrotechnicians who were retirees could satisfy part C.  Plainly, a retiree, by definition, is not engaged in an “an independently established trade, occupation, profession or business.”  Nevertheless, if the panel would have addressed the issue, it may have concluded, based on Carpet Remnant, that the retirees were not employees because, being retired from employment, they were not economically dependent on the fireworks company and, thus, would not join the ranks of the unemployed upon termination of the challenged relationship.

Read the full story at New Jersey UCL Independent Contractor

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