Idaho Supreme Court reverses ruling on classification of truckers

By Clarissa Hawes, Land Line staff writer | 2/26/2014

The Idaho Supreme Court reversed a ruling on driver classification, now saying a two-pronged test must be used when classifying drivers who run under a motor carrier’s DOT number.

Previously, the higher court had sided with the Idaho Department of Labor and the Idaho Industrial Commission’s when classifying drivers, stating that even independent owner-operators who haul goods under a motor carrier’s DOT number are “engaged in covered employment under Idaho’s Employment Security Law.”

In its opinion issued in February, the high court determined that that a single definition cannot be used to classify drivers. Motor carriers must show that “the worker has been and will continue to be free from control or direction in the performance of his work, both under his contract of service and in fact; and that the worker is engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, profession or business.”

Back in 2007, the court examined the business practices of Giltner Inc. The court ruled at that time that Giltner owed more than $50,000 in employment and tax liability. The high court relied solely on whether a truck driver ran under another motor carrier’s DOT number. If so, the truck driver was an employee of a motor carrier.

The court applied the same test when the Idaho Department of Labor claimed Western Home Transport Inc. owed the agency more than $13,277 in unemployment insurance taxes and penalties, applying the same standard used in the Giltner case. Western Home has employee drivers, but also uses leased independent owner-operators who run under Western Home’s authority.

However, after Western Home appealed the decision, the Idaho Trucking Association took up the fight as well, filing an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief with the Idaho Supreme Court. The brief explained the differences between employee drivers and independent owner-operator, not independent contractors.

“We needed to stand up and be able to say no, an independent owner-operator is governed by many different facets and it’s not just one thing, like a DOT operating number,” Julie Pipal, president and CEO of the Idaho Trucking Association, told “Land Line Now.”

If the Idaho Supreme Court hadn’t reversed its earlier ruling, Pipal told “Land Line Now” that the decision would have been even more burdensome on the trucking industry “to operate independently.”

“I don’t think that we can subject ourselves to anymore than the government already does,” Pipal said.

The Idaho Supreme Court stated in its ruling that what wasn’t brought up in the Giltner case was the fact that an owner-operator may or may not have his own DOT authority “is completely inconsequential and irrelevant for him to provide his services to a motor carrier, whereas it would be critical in hauling for a manufacturer or shipper.”

“On remand, the (Idaho Industrial) Commission should determine whether Western satisfied the second prong of the covered employment exemption test without considering DOT authority as a factor,” the Idaho Supreme Court wrote in its opinion.

“Land Line Now” Staff Reporter Reed Black contributed to this report.

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