Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Factors considered by the courts in determining if an individual is an employee or an independent contractor for the purposed of membership in a retirement system


Factors considered by the courts in determining if an individual is an employee or an independent contractor for the purposed of membership in a retirement system
2014 NY Slip Op 01234, Appellate Division, Third Department

An attorney [Petitioner] provided legal services to a central school district on a part-time basis from 1969 until his retirement in 2006. Following a review of Petitioner's relationship with the school district the Comptroller determined that Petitioner was an independent contractor and not an employee and, therefore, was not entitled to membership in the New York State and Local Employees' Retirement System and thus ineligible for retirement pension benefits.

Plaintiff appealed and the Appellate Division said that “on this record, we cannot conclude that the Comptroller's determination that Petitioner was an independent contractor and not an employee of the school district was supported by substantial evidence” and annulled the Comptroller’s decision.

The Appellate Division explained that it had recently said that “[w]here professional services are involved, the absence of direct control is not dispositive of the existence of an employer-employee relationship," citing Mowry v DiNapoli, 111 AD3d 1117. Rather, said the court, “such an employment relationship may be evidenced by control over important aspects of the services performed other than results or means"

In other words, said the court, "over-all control is sufficient to establish the employee relationship where [professional] work is concerned."

Factors considered by the Appellate Division in vacating the Comptroller’s decision included:

1. Testimony by the school district's former superintendent, who worked with Petitioner for nearly four decades, that during his tenure he supervised all staff at the school district, including Petitioner and Petitioner was required to attend all regular and special meetings as part of his employment;

2. Petitioner's biweekly paycheck included withholdings for FICA, Medicare, and federal and state income taxes;

3. Petitioner received health insurance benefits and participated in a tax shelter annuity program that was available to employees of the school district;

4. Although Petitioner did not have set hours, both he and the former superintendent testified that he was available on an as-needed basis.

5.Petitioner would receive a paycheck for a pay period even if he did not perform work for the school during that period;

6. Petitioner was required to report to the Superintendent of the school district, as well as the school district's Board of Education, and his work was subject to approval by the Board;

7. Petitioner was reappointed every year at annual reorganization meetings and took an oath of office annually; and

8. Although Petitioner used his own law office and staff, the competent testimony established that Petitioner was provided with school stationary and that, on occasion, he used school facilities and resources.

In contrast, the court said that the Retirement System relied on the testimony of two employees of the Comptroller, both of whom admitted that they neither spoke with Petitioner nor his former or current supervisors and although the Retirement System also relied on information retrieved from current employees at the school district's administrative offices, none of these employees testified at the hearing.

Noting that the Retirement System failed to provide testimony from anyone with direct knowledge regarding Petitioner's engagement with the school district, the Appellate Division ruled that the Comptroller's determination was not supported by substantial evidence.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2014/2014_01234.htm
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Handbooks focusing on State and Municipal Public Personnel Law continue to be available for purchase via the links provided below:

The Discipline Book at http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/

Challenging Adverse Personnel Decisions at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

The Disability Benefits E-book: at http://section207.blogspot.com/

Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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