Category Archives: Gig Economy

CalSavers: Employers Should Remain Compliance-Ready, Despite Court Challenges

Effective June 30, 2020, California employers with 100 or more employees, that do not maintain or contribute to a retirement plan, must participate in the CalSavers Program, by forwarding salary deferral contributions to the Program on behalf of most employees.  The CalSavers Program expands to employers with between 50 and 99 employees on June 30, 2021, and to employers with 5 or more employees on June 30, 2022, again presuming that the employer does not have a retirement plan in place  Employers of any size may voluntarily participate in CalSavers at the current time, and self-employed individuals, including those in the gig economy, may enroll effective September 1, 2019.

How do business owners count employees in order to determine their applicable CalSavers effective date?  What is the impact, if any, of being part of a “controlled group” of businesses, or of using a staffing or payroll agency?  What about out-of-state employers, or California-based employers with out-of-state employees? Below we do a “deep dive” on these and other CalSavers employer coverage issues.  For more information, you can also check our prior post on CalSavers.

Before we get to the details, CalSavers has not cleared all legal obstacles in its path as of this writing. The U.S. Department of Justice has stated that it is considering intervening in the federal court case over whether ERISA preempts CalSavers, and has asked for additional time, to September 13, 2019, to make its decision. CalSavers earlier survived a preemption challenge brought by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, succeeding in having the complaint dismissed, but the Association filed an amended complaint. The court’s decision on the amended complaint was pending when the Department of Justice got involved. We will continue to track the pending court challenge to CalSavers and update you on future developments.

  1. How do I count employees to determine when my business is subject to CalSavers? To determine employee headcount, take the average number of employees that your business reported to EDD for the quarter ending December 31 and the previous three quarters, counting full- and part-time employees.  California Code of Regulations Title 10, § 1001(a) (2019). So, for example, if you reported over 100 employees to EDD for the quarter ending December 31, 2019 and the previous three quarters, combined, you would need to register your business with CalSavers on June 30, 2020.
  2. What if my business is part of a controlled group of corporations? The CalSavers regulations do not address this issue. They appear to require each business with a separate federal EIN/California payroll tax account number to register or opt-out of the program.   So, for example, if your business has 25 employees but you are part of a controlled group that includes over 100 employees, and there is no controlled group plan in place, you would not need to register with CalSavers on June 30, 2020. This would also be the case if your business is part of a group of trades or businesses under common control (e.g. business types other than corporations), or an affiliated service group.
  3. What if my business contributes to a controlled group 401(k) plan or other retirement plan? Does my business qualify for the CalSavers exemption? If your business is part of a controlled group and contributes to the controlled group retirement plan on behalf of its employees the CalSavers exemption should apply, as it includes businesses that either “maintain” or “contribute to” a retirement plan. Cal. Code Regs. tit. 10, § 1000(m) (2019). The answer is the same if you are part of a group of trades or businesses under common control, or affiliated service group, that sponsors the retirement plan.
  4. What if my business is part of a controlled group, and the controlled group maintains a plan, but the plan excludes my business and my employees cannot participate? CalSavers personnel have informally stated that the CalSavers exemption applies even in this situation, because the business is still part of a controlled group that maintains a plan. Businesses that maintain their own plan, but that exclude a subset of employees from the plan (within the requirements of minimum coverage and nondiscrimination testing), even a majority of employees, are also exempt, per informal CalSavers commentary.  In such situations, an exempt employer cannot enroll their business in CalSavers voluntarily but can forward employee contributions on behalf of employees who have established a CalSavers account through prior employment.
  5. How do I do the employee headcount if my business uses a staffing agency or payroll company? Whether the staffing agency/payroll company or its “client” – your business – is the employer for headcount purposes depends upon what type of agency is involved. The CalSavers regulations refer to a“Tri-Party Employment Relationship,” which means that the employer enters into a service contract with a third-party entity for services including, but not limited to, payroll, staffing (both temporary and non-temporary), human resources, and employer compliance with laws and regulations. That category is further sub-divided into four categories.
  6. What categories of staffing/payroll companies do the CalSavers rules identify? The CalSavers rules refer to the following: Temporary Agencies, Leasing Agencies, Professional Employer Organizations or PEOs, and Motion Picture Payroll Services Companies. The basic rule is that the agency is the employer if you use a temporary agency or leasing agency, but your business is the employer for CalSavers headcount purposes if you use a PEO or Motion Picture Payroll Services Company. However, conditions apply! More details are provided in following questions.

Important Note: the Tri-Party Employment Relationship categories overlap to some degree, but not entirely, with federal rules governing who an employer is under ERISA employment benefit plans. The discussion here applies only to determining coverage under the CalSavers Program. For more information on ERISA benefit plan coverage issues raised by staffing agency and payroll company workers, see S. Derrin Watson’s treatise, Who’s the Employer esource, chapters 3, 5, and 6.

  1. What is a temporary agency or leasing agency for purposes of the CalSavers rules? California Unemployment Insurance Code § 606.5 (b) defines a temporary services employer or leasing employer as a business that does all of the following:
  • Negotiates with clients or customers for such matters as time, place, type of work, working conditions, quality, and price of the services.
  • Determines assignments or reassignments of workers, even though workers retain the right to refuse specific assignments.
  • Retains the authority to assign or reassign a worker to other clients or customers when a worker is determined unacceptable by a specific client or customer.
  • Assigns or reassigns the worker to perform services for a client or customer.
  • Sets the rate of pay of the worker, whether or not through negotiation.
  • Pays the worker from its own account or accounts.
  • Retains the right to hire and terminate workers.

If your business uses a temporary or leasing agency you should review the terms of your services agreement with them and confirm that it meets all of these requirements. If it does not, please see the response to Question 10.

  1. What is a PEO for purposes of the CalSavers rules? The CalSavers rule incorporate the definition found in Section 7705(e)(2) under the Internal Revenue Code, which describes a PEO as a business that does all of the following:
  • assumes responsibility for payment of wages to such individual, without regard to the receipt or adequacy of payment from the customer for such services,
  • assumes responsibility for reporting, withholding, and paying any applicable taxes [ . . . ] with respect to such individual’s wages, without regard to the receipt or adequacy of payment from the customer for such services,
  • assumes responsibility for any employee benefits which the service contract may require the certified professional employer organization to provide, without regard to the receipt or adequacy of payment from the customer for such benefits,
  • assumes responsibility for recruiting, hiring, and firing workers in addition to the customer’s responsibility for recruiting, hiring, and firing workers,
  • maintains employee records relating to such individual, and
  • agrees to be treated as a certified professional employer organization for purposes of section 3511 with respect to such individual.

If your business uses a PEO you should review the terms of your services agreement with them and confirm that it meets all of these requirements. If it does not, please see the response to Question 10.

  1. What is a Motion Picture Payroll Services Company for purposes of the CalSavers rules? If a payroll services company in the motion picture industry meets all of the following criteria as set forth in California U.I. Code § 679(f)(4), then the “employer” is the client motion picture production company:
  • Contractually provides the services of motion picture production workers to a motion picture production company or to an allied motion picture services company.
  • Is a signatory to a collective bargaining agreement for one or more of its clients.
  • Controls the payment of wages to the motion picture production workers and pays those wages from its own account or accounts.
  • Is contractually obligated to pay wages to the motion picture production workers without regard to payment or reimbursement by the motion picture production company or allied motion picture services company.
  • At least 80 percent of the wages paid by the motion picture payroll services company each calendar year are paid to workers associated between contracts with motion picture production companies and motion picture payroll services companies.

If your business uses a motion picture payroll services company you should review the terms of your services agreement with them and confirm that it meets all of these requirements. If it does not, please the response to Question 10.

  1. What if my business uses a third party staffing or payroll arrangement that does not fall within any of those definitions? In such instance, your business will be considered the employer for California payroll tax purposes per California Unemployment Insurance Code § 606.5(c), and likely for CalSavers employer coverage (employee headcount) purposes. The cited Unemployment Insurance Code section clarifies that the staffing or payroll company is considered a mere agent of your business in such instances, and is not a separate employing entity for payroll tax purposes.
  2. Does CalSavers apply to out-of-state employers? An employer’s eligibility is based on the number of California employees it employs. Eligible employees are any individuals who have the status of an employee under California law, who receive wages subject to California taxes, and who are at least 18 years old. If an out-of-state employer has more than 100 employees meeting that description, then as of June 30, 2020 it would need to either sponsor a retirement plan, or register for CalSavers.
  3. Does CalSavers apply to businesses located in California, with workers who perform services out of state? Yes, if the employer is not otherwise exempt, and if they have a sufficient number of employees who have the status of an employee under California law, who receive wages subject to California taxes, and who are at least 18 years old.

The above information is provided for general informational purposes only and does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader. Readers should not apply the information to any specific factual situation other than on the advice of an attorney engaged specifically for that or a related purpose.  (c) 2019 Christine P. Roberts, all rights reserved.

2 Comments

Filed under Affiliated Service Groups, CalSavers Program, Common Control Issues, Controlled Groups, Gig Economy, Payroll Issues, Payroll Services, Professional Employer Organizations, Staffing Agencies, State Auto-IRA Programs

California’s Dynamex Decision: What it Means for ERISA Plans

nik-macmillan-280300-unsplash

The California Supreme Court ruled on April 30, 2018 that, for purposes of coverage under California wage orders, employers must start with the presumption that a worker is a common law employee, and then may properly classify him or her as an independent contractor only if all of the following three criteria are met:

  1. The worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring business in connection with the performance of the work;
  2. The worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business; and
  3. The worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed for the hiring entity.

Although the Dynamex ruling is limited to classification of workers under the California wage orders, it’s practical effect is likely to be much broader, as employers are unlikely to use one definition of employee for wage and hour purposes, and another definition for, say, reimbursement of business expenses, or benefit plan eligibility.

Speaking of which, what is the likely impact of the Dynamex ruling on employee benefit plans? Will employers have to offer coverage retroactively to the hire date of the now-reclassified independent contractors? Must they offer coverage going forward?

ERISA plans look to the federal definition of common law employee, which in turn looks to federal case law and an IRS multi-factor test.   So the Dynamex decision does not itself create eligibility under an ERISA plan.   What if individuals who were reclassified as employees under the ABC test were to claim retroactive eligibility under an ERISA plan, however?  As a starting point, it is helpful to look at how most plan documents currently define “eligible employee” and how they treat the issue of workers who were engaged as independent contractors, but later are classified as common law employees.

Most prototype 401(k) plan documents – and some health plan documents in use by “self-insured” employers – contain what is commonly referred to as “Microsoft language” — under which plan eligibility will not extend retroactively to individuals who are hired as independent contractors, even if they later are classified as employees. The language came into common use after the Ninth Circuit ruling in Vizcaino v. Microsoft Corp., 120 F.3d 1006 (9th Cir. 1997), cert. denied.522 U.S. 1098 (1998), which held that long-term, “temporary” workers, hired as independent contractors, were employees for purposes of Microsoft’s 401(k) and stock purchase plan.[1]

For example, a prototype 401(k)/profit sharing plan that is in wide use provides as follows:

“Eligible Employee” means any Employee of the Employer who is in the class of Employees eligible to participate in the Plan. The Employer must specify in Subsection 1.04(d) of the Adoption Agreement any Employee or class of Employees not eligible to participate in the Plan. Regardless of the provisions of Subsection 1.04(d) of the Adoption Agreement, the following Employees are automatically excluded from eligibility to participate in the Plan:

(1) any individual who is a signatory to a contract, letter of agreement, or other document that acknowledges his status as an independent contractor not entitled to benefits under the Plan or any individual (other than a Self-Employed Individual) who is not otherwise classified by the Employer as a common law employee, even if such independent contractor or other individual is later determined to be a common law employee; and  (2) any Employee who is a resident of Puerto Rico.

And a self-insured group health plan document from a well-known provider states as follows:

The term “Employee” shall not include any individual for the period of time such individual was classified by the Employer as an independent contractor, leased employee (whether or not a “Leased Employee” under the Code section § 414(n)) or any other classification other than Employee. In the event an individual who is excluded from Employee status under the preceding sentence is reclassified as an Employee of the Employer pursuant to a final determination by the Internal Revenue Service, another governmental entity with authority to make such a reclassification, or a court of competent jurisdiction, such individual shall not retroactively be an Employee under this Plan. Such reclassified Employee may become a Covered Person in this Plan at such later time as the individual satisfies the conditions of participation set forth in this Plan. (Emphasis added.)

The Microsoft language, if present, may resolve the issue of retroactive coverage. What about coverage going forward? If a worker has provided services as an independent contractor but cannot retain that status under the ABC test, and is hired as a common-law, W-2 employee, does the first hour of service counted under the plan begin the day they become a W-2 employee, or the date they signed on as an independent contractor? The Microsoft provisions quoted above would suggest that service would start only when the common-law relationship starts, however employers are cautioned to read their specific plan documents carefully and to consult qualified employment and benefits law counsel for clarification. If the desire is to credit past service worked as an independent contractor, it may be advisable to seek IRS guidance before doing so, as fiduciary duties require that plan sponsors act in strict accordance with the written terms of their plan documents.

Finally, what about insured group health and welfare documents, such as fully insured medical, dental, vision, disability or life insurance? The policies and benefit summaries that govern these benefits probably won’t contain Microsoft language and may define eligible status as simply as “you are a regular full-time employee, as defined by your [Employer].”

Employers that are “applicable large employers” under the Affordable Care Act must count individuals who have been re-classified as common-law employees under the ABC test toward the group of employees to whom they offer minimum essential coverage; this group must comprise all but 5% (or, if greater, all but 5) of its full-time employees.  Unfortunately, there is potential ACA liability for failing the 95% offer on a retroactive basis. Public comments on the final employer shared responsibility regulations requested relief from retroactive coverage when independent contractors were reclassified as common-law employees, but the Treasury Department specifically failed to grant such relief, noting in the preamble to the final regulations that doing so could encourage worker misclassification.  Whether the customary 3-year tax statute of limitations would apply in such situations is not entirely clear; also unclear is whether employers could successfully argue that workers that fail the ABC test still somehow could classify as non-employees for federal common-law purposes.

Bottom line? Every California employer paying workers other than as W-2 employees should be re-examining those relationships under the ABC test and should be consulting qualified employment law counsel, and benefits law counsel, about the consequences of any misclassification, both on a retroactive basis (particularly with regard to the ACA), and going forward (all benefit plans).

[1] Another Ninth Circuit case, Burrey v. Pacific Gas & Elec. Co., 159 F.3d 388 (9th Cir. 1998), essentially followed the Microsoft ruling, but with specific regard to “leased employees” as defined under Internal Revenue Code § 414(n). A discussion of leased employees is beyond the scope of this post.

Leave a comment

Filed under 401(k) Plans, Affordable Care Act, Benefit Plan Design, Employer Shared Responsibility, Gig Economy, Independent Contractor, PPACA, Worker Misclassification