As you can imagine, this practice is not legal. A Connecticut statute specifically prohibits this Depression era practice. Conn. Gen. Stat. §31-73 provides that employers may not:
Demand, request, receive or exact any . . . sum of money . . . from any person upon the representationor the understanding that such . . . sum of money . . . is necessary to secure employment.
Despite this prohibition, some employers still try to get away with this. Of course, they hide their practice by calling the employees “independent contractors.” This practice is frequently found in the food delivery industry. There, workers who deliver food to grocery stores are sometimes told that they must buy their “route” and sign a detailed independent contractor agreement.
An employee is not an independent contractor just because a piece of paper says so. Workers are employees, not independent contractors, unless the employer can prove that he or she:
a. is free from direction and control in the performance of the service;
b. performs the work outside the usual course of the employer’s business or outside the employer’s places of business; AND
c. is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, profession or business of the same nature as the service being provided.
Employers usually fail this test in Connecticut because their workers are not independent; they are controlled in important ways by the employer; they do the type work that the employer does; and are not usually independently established as business entities.
There is a lawsuit on file now in Connecticut that challenges this practice, entitled Bokanowski v. Lepage Bakeries. This lawsuit is currently pending in New Haven before Judge Janet Hall. Mr. Bokanowski alleges that he was not an independent contractor because he was not truly independent. The complaint alleges that Lepage Bakeries required its delivery drivers to buy their “routes” and that Lepage made deductions from their wages without their consent. The plaintiffs are being represented by The Hayber, McKenna & Dinsmore.
There is a similar lawsuit pending in Massachusetts against the pretzel giant Snyder’s, entitled Lance–Tavares, et al. v. S-L Distribution Co., Inc. In that case, the plaintiffs claim that they, and all other delivery drivers for that company in Massachusetts, are improperly called independent contractors and are forced not only to pay for their “routes,” but also to pay all costs of making deliveries. The plaintiffs are being represented by the law firm of Lichten and Liss-Riordan of Boston, Massachusetts.
These lawsuits challenge the employer practice of calling employees independent contractors, when they are really employees, and then using that title to avoid obeying employee rights laws, including those against charging an employee for his very job!