Are you employed through a staffing agency? Do you have an employment discrimination case against the company where the staffing agency placed you? Companies love to dodge responsibility by saying that workers hired through staffing agencies aren’t employees. But they’re likely wrong.
In the recently issued case of Jimenez v. U.S. Cont'l Mktg., Inc. (2019) 41 Cal.App.5th 189, 197-98, the California Court of Appeals reminded companies that the “general principle—that an individual may be held to have more than one employer in the temporary-staffing context—has ‘long been recognized for the purposes of applying state and federal antidiscrimination laws.’” (quoting Bradley v. Dep’t of Corr. & Rehab. (2008) 158 Cal. App. 4th 1612, 1626).
Jimenez brought several claims under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA, which prohibits discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in the workplace) against both a staffing agency (Ameritemps) and her contracting employer (USCM). To determine whether the contracting employer was indeed Jimenez’s employer, the court held that “factors under the contractual control of the temporary-staffing agency (such as hiring, payment, benefits, and timesheets being handled by a temporary-staffing agency) are not given any weight in determining the employment relationship with respect to the contracting employer.” Jimenez, 41 Cal.App. at 193. In other words, the factors used to determine whether a staffing agency is someone’s employer are different from the factors used to determine whether a contracting employer is someone’s employer. Just because a staffing company oversees hiring, payment, benefits, and time-tracking does not mean the contracting employer is off the hook.
Why are the factors different? The factors that make a staffing agency someone’s employer are “outside the scope of the terms and conditions of the temporary employee’s employment with the contracting employer.” Jimenez, 41 Cal.App. at 193. Liability for harassment or discrimination under FEHA is “‘predicated” on allegations “‘involving the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment under the control of the employer[.]’” Id. (quoting Bradley v. Department of Corrections & Rehab. (2008) 158 Cal.App.4th 1612, 1629).
What matters when determining whether a contracting employer is responsible for alleged violations of FEHA is whether the employer exercised “direction and control” over the employee. Jimenez, 41 Cal.App. at 197. Examples of direction and control are whether the employee must obey instructions from the employer and whether the employer can fire the employee at any time. Id. Other examples the court cited were the fact that (1) Jimenez reported to an USCM employee; (2) she supervised both employees hired by USCM and employees hired through staffing agencies; (3) she was subject to USCM’s employee handbook; (4) she participated in company trainings and was able to use USCM’s clinic for on-the-job injuries; (5) she was subject to USCM’s disciplinary policies; and (6) USCM employees supervised and train (and are supervised and trained by) employees hired through staffing agencies. Id. at 199-200.
While the court declined to adopt a bright-line rule that every worker placed through a staffing agency is an employee of the contracting company, it did make clear that companies can’t dodge responsibility for discrimination and harassment that happens under their watch simply by pointing out that staffing agencies are responsible for the things staffing agencies are normally responsible for, namely hiring, payment, benefits, and time-tracking. A company will need to show that it did not exercise direction and control over the employee. This is a win for employees and a win for FEHA, whose purpose is “to protect and safeguard the right and opportunity of all persons to seek and hold employment free from discrimination.” Id. at 71-72.
Bryan Schwartz Law has written about FEHA before. If you believe you are being discriminated against in the workplace and were hired through a staffing agency, contact Bryan Schwartz Law today.