October 25, 2016

Determining the existence of an employer-employee relationship

Determining the existence of an employer-employee relationship 
Cole (Niagara Falls Hous. Auth.--Commissioner of Labor), 2016 NY Slip Op 06281, Appellate Division, Third Department 
Devore v DiNapoli, 2016 NY Slip Op 06934, Appellate Division, Third Department

The Cole Decision

The Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board [Board] ruled, among other things, that the Niagara Falls Housing Authority [Authority], a nonprofit governmental agency that provides affordable housing for senior citizens and low-income families, was liable for unemployment insurance contributions on remuneration paid to a certain employee [Claimant] and others similarly situated.

According to the decision, People and Possibilities, a nonprofit organization, was created to receive grants and to provide services to the community and acted as a subsidiary and agent of the Housing Authority. Further, the Housing Authority remained the fiscal and administrative agent for People and Possibilities' SNUG program.*

Claimant was retained by the Authority as an outreach worker — and, later, as a field supervisor — for the Authority's SNUG program. After the grant money had been depleted and Claimant’s work with the Housing Authority concluded, Claimant applied for unemployment insurance benefits.

The Department of Labor issued an initial determination finding that Claimant was an employee of the Authority and that the Authority was liable for unemployment insurance contributions based on remuneration paid to Claimant and others similarly situated.  Following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge sustained the Department's determination and the Authority filed an administrative appeal.

The Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board [Board] agreed with the Administrative Law Judge’s determination that an employer-employee relationship existed between the Housing Authority and Claimant and that the Housing Authority was liable for contributions based on remuneration paid to Claimant and others similarly situated. The Housing Authority then appealed the Board’s ruling.

The Appellate Division sustained the Board’s determination, explaining that “It is well settled that the existence of an employment relationship is a factual issue for the Board to resolve and its decision will be upheld if supported by substantial evidence.” Noting that no single factor is determinative, the court said that "[t]he relevant inquiry is whether the purported employer exercised control over the results produced or the means used to achieve those results, with control over the latter being the more important factor."

Although the Authority contended that it only exercised incidental control over Claimant, the court said that the record demonstrates that prior to being hired, Claimant filled out an application form and was required to submit a résumé, after which he was interviewed by a panel, which included two officials from the Authority, which determined to employ him.

Further, said the Appellate Division, once hired, Claimant was required to attend training, was required to work 35 hours per week, and was required to fill out and submit weekly time sheets that would have to be approved and signed by his supervisor before receiving remuneration from the Authority.

Other factors considered relevant by the Board in determining the existence of an employer-employee relationship included:

1. Did the claimant did receive fringe benefits?

2. Was the claimant reimbursed for his or her expenses related to the costs of a cell phone, gas, tolls, food and office supplies?

3. Was the claimant provided with office space to use in one of its buildings?

4. Was the claimant required to wear clothing to identify him or her as part of the entity?

5. Was the claimant required to maintain a certain number of clients and to meet with those clients?

6. Was the claimant permitted to subcontract his or her work or employ a substitute to perform his or her work?

7. Was the claimant’s work subject to periodic review and oversight by an entity supervisor?

Considering such factors with respect to the Claimant’s relationship with the Authority, the Appellate Division held that the Board's finding that an employer-employee relationship existed between Claimant and the Housing Authority was supported by substantial evidence and declined to disturbed it.

The Devore v DiNapoli Decision

In Devore v DiNapoli the issue concerned the mirror image of an employer-employee relationship: service provided as an independent contractor.

Cynthia Devore, a medical doctor, provided services as a school physician and medical director for numerous entities since the 1980s. She is also a member of the New York Stateand Local Retirement System. A dispute arose as to whether she was entitled to service credit for certain periods in which she was reported as a part-time employee by Monroe Number 1 BOCES and the Brighton, Greece, Rush-Henrietta, Spencerport and Williamsville Central School Districts [School Districts].

Ultimately the State Comptroller found that Dr. Devore served as an independent contractor for the School Districts for the relevant periods and she appealed.

The Appellate Division said that in "calculating retirement benefits, service credit is available only to employees, not independent contractors”, and “[a]n employer-employee relationship exists when the evidence shows that the employer exercises control over the results produced or the means used to achieve the results.” However, said the court, an employer-employee relationship may also exist under if the putative employer exercised overall “control over important aspects of the services performed other than results or means.” 

Whether sufficient overall control existed is a factual issue for the Comptroller, and his resolution of it will be upheld if supported by substantial evidence in the record. 

The record before the court included Dr. Devore’s testimony, as well as testimony of officials from most of the school districts, all of which specified how the school districts exercised significant control over aspects of Dr. Devore’s work. The only potential inconsistency was while the school districts had all categorized Dr. Devore as an employee by 2006, Dr. Devore had previously executed agreements with the school districts that categorized her as an independent contractor.

However, it is the actual relationships between the parties rather than the labels assigned to their relationships pursuant to a contract or otherwise that determine whether an employer-employee relationship exists.**

As the evidence documenting the significant overall control exercised by the school districts over aspects of Dr. Devore's work faced little challenge from the Retirement System and the System rested at the administrative hearing without presenting any witnesses, the Appellate Division held there was a lack of substantial evidence to support the Comptroller's determination that Dr. Devore worked as an independent contractor for the school districts during the periods that she was classified by them as an employee.

The court then annulled so much of the Comptroller's decision as determined that Dr. Devore was not an employee of Williamsville Central School District from July 1, 2002 to November 2008, Greece Central School District from July 1, 2003 to the present, Rush-Henrietta Central School District from February 1, 2006 to the present, Spencerport Central School District from July 1, 2005 to June 30, 2008, and Brighton Central School District from July 2005 to the present. It then remitted the matter to the Comptroller for further proceedings “not inconsistent with this Court's decision; and, as so modified, confirmed” the Comptroller decision.

* See, also, the decision in Davis (Niagara Falls Hous. Auth.--Commissioner of Labor), 2016 NY Slip Op 06283, Appellate Division, Third Department, in which similar factors were considered in relation to claims for unemployment insurance benefits filed by other employees engaged in the Housing Authority's SNUG program, posted on the Internet at http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2016/2016_06283.htm

** See NYPPL’s posting captionedDesignating an individual an ‘independent contractor’ rather than an ‘employee’ does not control the relationship of that individual to the employing entity” at http://publicpersonnellaw.blogspot.com/2015/05/designating-individual-independent.html

The Cole decision is posted on the Internet at:

The Devore decision is posted on the Internet at: http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2016/2016_06934.htm


Subsequent court and administrative rulings, or changes to laws, rules and regulations may have modified or clarified or vacated or reversed the decisions summarized here. Accordingly, these summaries should be Shepardized® or otherwise checked to make certain that the most recent information is being considered by the reader.
Consistent with the Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations, the material in this blog is presented with the understanding that neither the publisher nor members of the staff are providing legal advice to the reader and in the event legal or other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to seek such advice from a competent professional.