Tel: 804.864.1100

Tel: 804.864.1100

The GreeneHurlocker Blog

Employer Basics: FLSA Classification of Employees

There is seldom a bad time for employers to reevaluate employee classifications. While some occasions are less optimal than others, for example, reevaluation upon an employer’s receipt of a complaint from the United States Department of Labor (“DOL”), employers should carve out time each year to scrutinize changes in employee assignments and relationships, along with other factors that impact classification.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) offers minimum wage and overtime pay protections to almost all workers in the United States. Assuming for the purposes of our discussion that an employer is subject to the FLSA, there are certain factors that necessarily impact the independent contractor versus employee-employer analysis. At base, “In the application of the FLSA an employee, as distinguished from a person who is engaged in a business of his or her own, is one who, as a matter of economic reality, follows the usual path of an employee and is dependent on the business which he or she serves.”1

The critical determination is, perhaps based upon the most nebulous standards – as the U.S. Supreme Court has, time and again, indicated that no single rule, test or standard, alone, dictates classification. Rather, the current standard applied by the Court looks, on the whole, at the “total activity or situation.”2 Factors included in this analysis are:

    • The extent to which the services rendered are an integral part of the principal’s business.
    • The permanency of the relationship.
    • The amount of the alleged contractor’s investment in facilities and equipment.
    • The nature and degree of control by the principal.
    • The alleged contractor’s opportunities for profit and loss.
    • The amount of initiative, judgment, or foresight in open market competition with others required for the success of the claimed independent contractor.
    • The degree of independent business organization and operation.3

The Court adds clarity by highlighting certain factors which are immaterial in determining whether there is an employment relationship.4 For example, the place where work is performed, the absence of a formal employment agreement, or whether an alleged independent contractor is licensed by State/local government are not considered to have a bearing on determinations as to whether there is an employment relationship.5 Additionally, the Supreme Court has held that the time or mode of pay does not control the determination of employee status.6 What happens next in the analysis is (typically) an evaluation of the relationship in which courts will consider the above-factors, while taking into account the industry, the nature of the work, and other situation-based considerations. Because these situations are routinely fact-intensive, it is worthwhile for employers to revisit classifications when making changes in their workforce.

Despite the oft-repeated refrain, “everyone in our industry classifies workers this way”, common industry practice is insufficient to excuse employer misclassification of employees – whether or not willful. Employers should be especially careful about taking cues from their competition. Simply because other employers in your industry classify employees as independent contractors, does not make it accurate. Equally unpersuasive in misclassification cases is an employee’s “agreement” to be misclassified, whether informally or via written employment agreement – even if the employment contract specifically defines an employee’s relationship to the employer as that of an independent contractor. Employers should also be aware that while an employee may be an independent contractor pursuant to state law or Internal Revenue Service standards, the FLSA may still create an employer/employee relationship where, for tax purposes or under state law, the analysis produces a different result.

What do you risk by failing to properly classify your employees? Employees may file complaints with the Wage and Hour Division of the DOL. Employees may also file private lawsuits to recover back pay, and liquidated damages, in addition to court and attorneys’ fees. The Wage and Hour Division of the DOL is also empowered bring its own enforcement actions. A two-year statute of limitations applies to actions to recover back pay. However, if a violation is “willful”, a three-year statute of limitations may apply.

The takeaway: Employers should make time before the end of the year to reevaluate their employee relationships and policies. Should you have any questions about this article or labor and employment law, please contact one of our employment lawyers.


1 “Fact Sheet 13: Employment Relationship Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)”, https://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs13.htm (last accessed 9/12/2019).
2 Id.
3 Id.
4 Id.
5 Id.
6 Id.

Delaware Green Power Product Reports Due at the End of September

September 30, 2019 is the due date for competitive suppliers offering “Green Power Products” to file their annual compliance reports with the Delaware Public Service Commission. The Report Form is available on the Commission’s website on the Renewable Portfolio Standard and Green Power Products page.

Competitive suppliers are no longer responsible for compliance with Delaware’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, after that obligation was transferred to Delmarva Power & Light Company in 2012. However, competitive suppliers that offer “green” or renewable energy products in Delaware must file a compliance report with the Public Service Commission detailing the renewable energy credits used to meet the marketed green power percentages for their electricity sales.

The current Green Power Product requirements are found in Section 13 of the Delaware Public Service Commission’s Rules for Certification and regulation of Electric Suppliers, 26 Del. Admin. C. § 3001. These rules were promulgated in Regulation Docket 49 and approved in Order No. 9020 on February 2, 2017. See 20 DE Reg. 827.

If you have questions about Delaware’s Green Power Product reporting requirements or other requirements applicable to competitive electricity suppliers operating in Delaware, please contact Eric Wallace or any of GreeneHurlocker’s energy and regulatory lawyers.

Calpine and Direct Energy Win Again, Continue to Provide Renewable Energy in Virginia

The Virginia State Corporation Commission (the “Commission”) denied Dominion Energy Virginia’s (“Dominion”) July 16, 2019 petitions for declaratory judgment in Case Numbers PUR-2019-00117 and PUR-2019-00118 by Final Order on September 18, 2019. Dominion’s petitions sought to have the Commission standardize “around the clock,” “control of renewable capacity” requirements for competitive service providers (“CSPs”) to serve customers under Virginia Code § 56-577 A 5 (“Section A 5”). That section provides a statutory right to customers of all classes to purchase “electric energy provided 100 percent from renewable energy” from a CSP unless the utility has its own 100% renewable energy tariff. Dominion’s application for a 100% renewable energy tariff is pending before the Commission, and Dominion had refused to process enrollments submitted by Calpine Energy Solutions, LLC (“Calpine”) and Direct Energy Business, LLC (“Direct Energy”) under Section A 5 in the interim and initiated these cases at the Commission.

The Commission previously granted Calpine’s and Direct Energy’s requests for injunctive relief, requiring Dominion to process enrollments while these cases are pending. We blogged about that here.

Dominion’s petitions took aim at Calpine and Direct Energy, seeking a determination that CSPs seeking to serve under Section A 5 must establish that they can supply customers with electric energy provided 100 percent from renewable energy on an “around the clock” basis and that the CSPs must have “control” over “renewable capacity.” The Commission flatly rejected Dominion’s positions and declared that both Calpine and Direct Energy provided information to reasonably establish that they have contracted for sufficient renewable energy to match renewable supply with a participating customer’s load on a monthly basis, which is consistent with Section A 5 and Commission precedent.

Regarding Commission precedent, the Commission refused to adopt Dominion’s interpretation of a prior order approving Appalachian Power Company’s Rider WWS (“Rider WWS Order”), which Dominion believes requires a CSP to have “control of sufficient renewable generation resources, including renewable capacity and associated renewable energy, to enable it to serve the full load requirements of the customers it intends to serve.” The Commission’s refused to provide the requested declaration, explaining that the Rider WWS Order did not require “’renewable capacity,’ nor did it define ‘full load requirements’ to mean (as argued by Dominion) ‘full load at all times’ or ‘full load requirements around the clock.’” Significantly, the Commission’s Final Order makes clear: “Nothing in [the Rider WWS Order], however, found that [Appalachian Power Company’s] proposal was the only way to comply with Section A 5.”

The crux of the Commission’s decision relied upon its close reading of Section A 5. “The plain language of Section A 5 also says ‘energy,’ not ‘capacity.’” In acknowledging this critical distinction, the Commission put a finer point on Dominion’s efforts to muddy the waters between “energy” and “capacity” requirements, despite the fact that Section A 5 requires customers to purchase renewable electric “energy” – not “capacity.” In the same way, the Commission examined closely Dominion’s request for more stringent matching standards, noting several times that in other proceedings, Dominion has taken positions inconsistent with those it takes in its petitions for declaratory judgment: “There is nothing in the plain language of Section A 5, however, that mandates Dominion’s “100% of the time” (i.e., “around the clock”) requirement.”

The Commission also scrutinized Dominion’s proposal from a consumer protection perspective, finding that Dominion’s “100% of the time” standard would adversely affect a customer’s right to purchase renewable energy – essentially, upending the entire aim of Section A 5. Dominion’s argument would read certain renewable generating sources (e.g., wind or solar) out of the statute because of their intermittency regardless of the amount of nameplate capacity or peak load served. Finally, the Commission evaluated Dominion’s proposed standard with special focus on the fact that Virginia’s existing monthly matching standard is already one of the most stringent in the country for states with renewable energy markets, as other states generally require customer load and renewable supply to be matched on a yearly basis.

The Commission declined to accept Dominion’s proposed language that would adopt a new standard for Section A 5, presented for the first time at the hearing on August 20, 2019. The Commission reasoned that to do so would contravene the Commission’s past rejection of “capacity,” “peak demand,” or “100% of the time” requirements – including the Commission’s rejection of Dominion’s past requests (notably in the Rider WWS proceeding) for “around the clock” supply of renewable energy pursuant to Section A 5. Similarly, the Commission held that Dominion’s proposal at the hearing regarding what Dominion believes the current law should reflect “improperly goes beyond the specific relief requested in the Petitions for Declaratory Judgment… [and] does not reflect current Commission precedent and is otherwise procedurally improper.”

The Conclusion in the Commission’s Final Order makes clear that:

  • Commission precedent permits a CSP to match customer load with renewable supply on a monthly basis and does not requires CSPs to provide “renewable capacity”;
  • Direct Energy and Calpine have satisfactorily demonstrated that they can supply their customers with electric energy provided 100 percent from renewable energy on a monthly matching basis;
  • Direct Energy and Calpine are required to continue providing information as directed in the Final Order – regarding each CSP’s customer load and wholesale generation contracts, in accordance with Section A 5, the Commission’s Rules Governing Retail Access to Competitive Energy Services, as well as Dominion’s Competitive Service Provider Coordination Tariff; and
  • Even if Dominion’s new proposal were procedurally appropriate, which it is not, the Commission further finds that: (1) the plain language of Section A 5 does not mandate – as a matter of law – adoption of Dominion’s proffered standard; and (2) matching customer load with renewable supply on a monthly basis represents a reasonable standard under Section A 5, and Dominion’s proposed standard is not necessary in order to implement Section A 5 in a reasonable manner,

GreeneHurlocker represents Calpine in these proceedings.
If you have questions about this case or electric service in general, please contact one of GreeneHurlocker’s energy and regulatory lawyers.

VA SCC Grants Injunction, Orders Dominion to Move Customers

wind turbines and solar arraysThe Virginia Commission has entered an Order on Enrollments granting motions for injunctive relief filed by Calpine Energy Solutions, LLC and Direct Energy Business, LLC. In the Order, the Commission directed Dominion Energy Virginia to “immediately resume processing enrollment requests under Section A 5 for customers who wish to purchase from Direct Energy or Calpine.”

Under Va. Code Section 56-577 A 5 (“Section A 5”), a customer shall be permitted to purchase “electric energy provided 100 percent from renewable energy” from a competitive service provider (“CSP”) if the utility has not filed an approved 100% renewable tariff. To date, Dominion does not have an approved 100% renewable tariff, and several nonresidential customers, with multiple accounts, have signed contracts with Calpine and Direct, two CSPs, to take retail service under Section A 5.

In July, Dominion filed petitions for declaratory judgment asking the Commission to determine that Calpine and Direct had not demonstrated that they were providing “electric energy provided 100 percent from renewable energy” to their customers as required by Section A 5. Calpine and Direct are disputing Dominion’s allegations as well as Dominion’s proposed standard for providing service under Section A 5. In the interim, however, Dominion had refused to process pending and future enrollments until the case was decided.

On July 22, 2019, Calpine and Direct filed for injunctive relief, asking the Commission to require Dominion to process their respective customers’ enrollments – thereby allowing the customers to switch to Calpine and Direct – while the cases are pending.

The Commission held a hearing on the injunction on August 7 and held an expedited hearing on the merits of the cases on August 20, 2019.

In a footnote to the order, the Commission held that Calpine and Direct had satisfied the elements needed for the issuance of an injunction, including: (a) absent the instant order, Calpine and Direct Energy will suffer irreparable harm; (b) Calpine and Direct have no adequate remedy at law; and (c) the Commission is satisfied of Calpine’s and Direct Energy’s equity. The Commission also noted that “A temporary injunction allows a court to preserve the status quo between the parties while litigation is ongoing.”

Our firm is representing Calpine in the proceedings.

If you have questions about this case or electric service in general, please contact one of GreeneHurlocker’s energy and regulatory lawyers.

Maryland to Implement Supplier Consolidated Billing

Finding that supplier consolidated billing (SCB) represents the next logical step for Maryland to fully implement customer choice, the Maryland Public Service Commission on May 7, 2019 issued an order authorizing SCB for retail electric and natural gas service in Maryland. In this historic order, the Commission found that SCB could support the growth of retail competition in Maryland and is consistent with the Commission’s policies to promote competition. SCB, by augmenting the existing billing arrangements, should assist suppliers in establishing brand identity and clarifying the products available to customers. At the same time, SCB should facilitate the development of new and innovative products and services and increase the number of Maryland households that shop for electricity and natural gas. Based on these and other conclusions, the Commission found that “it is now appropriate to proceed with the development of SCB.”

The case was initiated by five retail suppliers – NRG Energy, IGS Energy, Just Energy Group, Direct Energy and ENGIE Resources – and the Commission held a hearing in February 2018. We’ve blogged about this case here and here and also posted a video blog here.

In the order, the Commission established the SCB Workgroup and immediately tasked it with developing an implementation timeline within the next 60 days. The timeline, filed in early July 2019, calls for full-on SCB implementation by September 1, 2022.

To guide the SCB Workgroup, the Commission addressed numerous substantive elements of the SCB program, the highlights of which include:

Supplier Qualifications to Provide SCB:

The Commission held: “any proposed regulations should comprehensively address the capabilities necessary to ensure that these functions are performed on par with existing utility offerings. Further, the regulations should be tailored to demonstrate that a supplier can meet the rigorous demands of increased customer service and dispute resolution functions, complex billing requirements, and the quality assurance and record keeping necessary to handle utility charges that may contribute to potential utility disconnections.”

Authority of SCB Providers to Disconnect Customers for Nonpayment:

The Commission rejected the petitioners’ request to allow SCB suppliers to initiate disconnects for non-payment. This had been a central element of the petitioners’ case because it is necessary to manage bad debt, similar to the utilities. In response to those concerns, the Commission will require that utilities purchase the outstanding distribution charges of a delinquent customer account upon the customer’s return to standard offer service (SOS), as further discussed below. For other charges, the SCB provider must resort to the traditional remedies of other non-regulated businesses, including reporting to credit agencies, seeking monetary judgments in court, and pursuing collection activities.

Purchase of Receivables (POR) and Supplier Bad Debt:

The Commission held that SCB suppliers must provide POR to the utili8ty on substantially the same terms as provide in utility consolidated billing (UCB). The Commission directed the workgroups, including the SCB Workgroup, to identify and propose an equitable payment posting priority system and other protections that may be necessary to ensure that any charges contributing to a disconnection are properly handled. Additionally, the Commission agreed with the petitioners that suppliers need some ability to protect themselves from the risk of non-payment. The Commission held that, after reasonable efforts to collect, the supplier should not be required to hold any debt attributable to the customer’s distribution charges paid under POR. Where a supplier can demonstrate the amount of unpaid distribution charges, the utility should repurchase those charges at a zero discount rate unless the SCB Workgroup can provide alternative calculations which are supported by a compelling analysis.

Customer Protection and Customer Education:

The Commission held that a supplier that offers SCB is required to provide all the same consumer protections, disclosures (including the utility’s price to compare), notices,
and billing information required of a regulated utility. This includes providing all surcharge line items and compliance with all current COMARs related to consumer protections. The Commission directed the SCB Workgroup to identify and justify any deviations from or additions to existing consumer protection standards. The SCB Workgroup should consider new disclosure and notice requirements for how utilities and SCB suppliers communicate the varying relationships to the customer, the content of past due notices by SCB suppliers, and the utility notices for customers selecting SCB.

Cost Recovery:

The Commission made no findings regarding cost recovery. The Commission directed the SCB Workgroup to identify and estimate, with as much detail as possible, these and any other costs and benefits related to SCB. The Commission directed the SCB Workgroup to consider varying cost recovery mechanisms and present either a consensus approach or options for Commission consideration. The Commission recognized that the SCB Workgroup might not reach a consensus on cost recovery but said, “this should not delay progress towards proposing regulations in other areas.”

If you have questions about SCB or electric or natural gas retail service in general, please contact one of GreeneHurlocker’s energy and regulatory lawyers.

Delaware Implementing Purchase of Receivables Program for Electricity Suppliers

At long last, the Delaware Public Service Commission entered an order adopting Delmarva Power’s proposed purchase of receivables (“POR”) program effective July 1, 2019. We previously blogged on this issue when Delmarva initially filed its proposal. The effective date was delayed by one month, but Delmarva will purchase suppliers’ receivables effective the end of May so that suppliers are not harmed by the delay.

The going-in rates for the first year of the program are in the table below. These are important because they represent the “haircut” that suppliers must accept when Delmarva purchases their receivables.

Residential Small commercial Large commercial Hourly Priced (LGS, GSP, GST)
Payment factor 99.3833% 99.6591% 99.8818% 100.00%
Discount factor 0.6167% 0.3409% 0.1182% 0.0000%

For more information, please contact one of our energy lawyers.

Knowing Where to Start

Clients wonder sometimes what they are getting into when they ask a lawyer to draft a contract. Maybe their fear is that their attorney will sharpen up his metaphorical pencil, lean his chair back to think deeply on life and law for an hour or two (on the clock), and then pull out the laptop and sit down to drafts things up from scratch, like a composer writing out each note to a (very boring) symphony. The client may fear that the lawyer views every deal is different, that everything about every deal is new every time, that everything needs to be tailored like a bespoke suit.

Every deal is different, it’s often said – I’ve heard myself say it a hundred times. That’s because the facts are different, and that’s because no two people and no two companies are alike or have the exact same priorities. But that doesn’t mean that two deals – say, two leases of refrigerated warehouse space, or two agreements for the purchase of the assets of small businesses — happening 500 miles apart (or 5000 or 5) — can’t be done with forms of contract that are 90% the same.

In fact, they probably should be done that way.

And your attorney shouldn’t be spending a whole lot of time going for the Pulitzer Prize for creative nonfiction and drafting that 90% (just a percentage used for illustration purposes) from scratch.

Unless we are speaking of some sort of business deal where the industry is utterly new, the parties are utterly idiosyncratic, and the risk tolerances are off the charts (one direction or the other), or all of the above, the same basic forms work across the board. I remember Internet 1.0 – the days of AOL and Pets.com — and the ways that lawyers were trying to draft “application service provider” contracts that expressed the concept of software programs being accessed over the Internet (what we now call Software as a Service (SaaS)). But even in that time, when the Internet was beginning to utterly change the way the world operated, the contracts were pretty much built right on top of software, consulting, joint venture and financing contracts that had been around for decades before that.

The majority of the text in a contract from 1975 (the year of the room-sized computer) – for example, events of default, remedies on default, representations and warranties, indemnification, assignment, the boilerplate at the end, and the general flow and sequence of the document — was essentially the same as the text in a contract drafted in 2000 (the year of the Pets.com sock puppet). The same is even more true for commercial real estate contracts, and even holds true for many types of intellectual property agreements.

And it goes without saying that 90% of the text in an accounting SaaS services agreement from 2017 is going to be the same as a payroll SaaS services agreement from 2019.

Anyone who tells it differently is trying to create mystery where there really should be none.

That’s my candid and honest observation How does this insight relate to you?

As outside corporate general counsel, under our OPENgc service offering, GreeneHurlocker is keenly focused on saving a client time and money while still delivering the legal assistance a client needs, when they need it. We avoid reinventing wheels. We’ve been practicing enough years, in widely varying industries and for companies of all sizes, to have an experienced, intuitive sense of what works and what doesn’t, and how the work we’ve done before may apply to the work we are doing for a client now. When a client picks up the phone and asks for an individual contract to be done or an entire deal to be quarterbacked, the client can rest assured we are not starting from scratch. Instead, we’re applying all the knowledge and work we have already done.

We’re here to guide you to the end of your deal. But we also know where to start.

Comments filed on Draft Maryland Retail Supplier Load Shaping RFP

In late March, we posted about the Maryland Public Service Commission’s request for comments on a draft “Retail Supplier Load Shaping RFP” in the Public Conference 44 proceeding. In early April, comments were filed by the Maryland Energy Administration, the Retail Energy Supply Association, Direct Energy Services, Inc., Staff of the Maryland Public Service Commission, Baltimore Gas and Electric Company/Potomac Electric Power Company/Delmarva Power & Light Company, the Maryland Office of People’s Counsel, and CleanChoice Energy, Inc.

Parties encouraged the Commission to adopt an RFP process to maximize supplier participation, protect trade secrets, provide suppliers flexibility in their load shaping pilot proposals, and allow expanded billing options to enable suppliers to bring innovative proposals to the table. Some parties specifically pointed to supplier consolidated billing and on-bill financing as important tools to pair with supplier time-of-use electricity supply offerings within the pilot. Commenting suppliers noted some key improvements to the RFP structure as compared to a prior retail supplier time-of-use pilot design. However, suppliers also recommended that the Commission add options for marketing support for the retail supplier load shaping pilot offering to help get the word out about the program and encourage customer participation.

Additional recommendations addressed promoting use of renewable energy, access to historical usage data, expanded opportunities for net metering customers, and modifications to other program criteria. Suppliers also raised concerns about certain requirements that may discourage some suppliers from submitting bids to participate in the pilot program. The Office of People’s Counsel commented on the importance of minimizing the costs to both participating and non-participating consumers, ensuring adequate consumer protections, incentives structures, billing, and other issues. All of the comments were filed on April 9, 2019, and as of this post, we are waiting for further action from the Commission in response to the comments.

If you have questions or would like more information about Maryland Retail Supplier Load Shaping RFP or other regulatory issues, please contact Eric Wallace or any of our mid-Atlantic energy lawyers.

Delmarva Power Files Proposed DE Purchase of Receivables

transmission towers for electricityAfter years of proceedings at the Delaware Public Service Commission, the end – or the beginning – is in sight. In late March, Delmarva Power filed its proposed Purchase of Receivables (POR) program, including the going-in discount rates, with the Delaware Commission. With a POR program, the utility purchases the receivables of the retail electric supplier operating on the system, which helps to level the playing field between suppliers and the utility which has the right to disconnect service for non-payment.

Delmarva recommends that the program take effect for service rendered on June 1, 2019, as the Commission has previously directed. The discount rates are important because those are the “discounts” that retail suppliers must accept in allowing the utility to purchase the receivable. Delmarva proposes the following discount rates for the first year of the program:

Class Discount Rate
Residential 0.6167%
Small C&I 0.3409%
Large C&I 0.1182%
Hourly Priced Service 0.0%

 

It is expected that the Commission will consider the POR proposal at one of its May administrative meetings, in time for the program to being June 1, 2019. For more information, please contact one of our energy lawyers.