A New York Commercial and Construction Law Firm
Adams Leclair LLP is a litigation law firm that concentrates its practice in commercial and construction advocacy throughout upstate New York. Headquartered in Rochester, New York, we provide specialized counsel, honed by decades of experience in state and federal courts at the trial and appellate levels. We also represent clients in various administrative tribunals from local planning boards and boards of assessment review to state and federal agencies, such as Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the New York State Department of Labor, the EEOC, and the National Labor Relations Board.
Our practice areas additionally include employment, municipal, real property tax, estate and trust litigation. In September 2019, we combined the talents of the construction litigation practitioners from Adams Bell Adams, PC and the experienced commercial litigators from Leclair Korona Cole, LLC which has helped us better structure our clients’ business affairs in ways that anticipate and avoid conflict. We are proud of the reputation we have earned among our peers and our clients for vigorous advocacy and effective representation.
Subcontracting is fundamental to the construction industry. Few if any general contractors self-perform (with their own employees) all the work necessary to construct a building, a road or a bridge. Instead GCs and other prime contractors subcontract substantial work to other companies or self-employed persons who have the necessary skills in a particular trade or service, such as masonry or steel erecting or plumbing or roofing. In fact, subs will oftentimes further subcontract parts of their work to others. But under current law in New York, those who subcontract with persons who are self-employed, or with contractors that are economically disadvantaged, may find themselves facing a subcontractor misclassification claim from the State Department of Labor.
It might be said that every worker on a construction project performs a service for the general (or other prime) contractor, in the sense that each performs work for which the GC or other prime is contractually obligated. But historically that “prime” contractor is not responsible for assuring that all workers are paid proper wages, that payroll taxes for all workers are remitted, or that all workers are insured for workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits. Those obligations fell, in the past, to each worker’s employer, or to the worker himself when he is self-employed. But there have been too many occasions where contractors have misclassified their employees as “subcontractors” so as to avoid paying the wages, taxes and benefits associated with “employment.”
To address this problem, in 2010 New York lawmakers passed the Construction Industry Fair Play Act, which created a legal presumption that everyone working on a construction project is the “employee” of each contractor “above” her, absent proof either that she meets all the statutory elements of self-employment under a so-called “ABC test,” or that she worked for a “separate business entity” as determined by the State Departments of Labor using a strict 12-point checklist. Under either test, contractors have become legally responsible as “employer” for workers that they hadn’t previously been responsible for, and for monetary penalties for subcontractor misclassification.
The “ABC” test for self-employment is specifically designed to protect the individual worker whom a contractor has misclassified as a subcontractor rather than an employee, in order to avoid the costs associated with formal employment. The “ABC” test certainly captures those cases. But it also creates liability in otherwise legitimate subcontracting situations.
Before 2010 a contractor could not lawfully treat a worker as a sub if the contractor exercised control over the means and methods that the worker used to achieve a particular result. By exercising such control, the contractor made that worker its employee. This was the consequence regardless of whether the worker was supposedly self-employed or was “employed” by another company that was effectively absent from the job. The “ABC” test starts with this same rule, directing that a construction worker may not lawfully be classified as a subcontractor unless he or she was (A) “free from control and direction” by the contractor, both contractually and “in fact.” But it also requires (B) that the worker be performing services that are “outside” the contractor’s “usual course of business,” and (C) that those services be the work of an established trade that the worker “is customarily engaged in.” Under the Act as interpreted by the Department of Labor, an individual worker may be treated as a subcontractor rather than an employee only if all three of these requirements are met and only if there is a written subcontract agreement confirming that arrangement.
The requirement that all three “ABC” criteria be met to establish self-employment certainly makes it easier for the Labor Department to punish historic subcontractor misclassification. But it also effectively eliminates subcontracting opportunities for self-employed individuals who engage in work that might be regarded as within the contractor’s “usual course of business,” whatever that means. It likewise strangles opportunity for self-employed persons whose business – for example cleaning – may not be regarded by the Labor Department as an established trade or profession. Meanwhile, from the contractors’ point of view, the “ABC” test is at least clear enough to enable them to avoid unexpected employer liability and fines for misclassification, by limiting their engagement of self-employed individuals, even if at the expense of entire classes of would-be entrepreneurs.
There is no such clarity, however, in the alternative 12-prong test that the Construction Industry Fair Play Act applies to determine whether a subcontractor is a “separate business entity” from the contractor that would engage it. As explained, the application of this test can only limit opportunities for small or start-up businesses, particularly those that may be hamstrung by social or economic disadvantage.
Generally, it had always been true that a contractor was not responsible for the wages or benefits owed to its subcontractors’ employees, as long as those subcontractors were sufficiently independent of the contractor in controlling their employees, and especially the means and methods they employed in performing the subcontracted work. But under the Fair Play Act’s “separate business entity” test this “control” factor is only the first of at least 15 requirements (some prongs have multiple requirements) that must be met if the hiring contractor is to avoid becoming the “employer” of its subcontractor’s employees.
Some of the additional conditions seem reasonable enough: Like the requirements that the would-be subcontractor not depend on the contractor for its existence, that it do business with the contractor in its own name and not hold its people out as employees of the contractor, that it controls its own gains and bears its own losses, that it makes its services available generally in the marketplace on whatever terms it choses, and that it holds whatever license its services require.
But some mandatory criteria are virtually unknowable to a non-controlling contractor, like whether the sub reports its services on Federal tax returns as those of an independent entity, or whether it reports its employees’ incomes to the IRS. If the subcontracting business fails in either of these obligations its workers can become the responsibility of the prime contractor who engaged it.
Other conditions on the checklist discriminate against small businesses that are economically disadvantaged. These include requirements that the sub furnish its own tools and equipment, that it have “a substantial investment of capital . . . beyond ordinary tools and equipment and a personal vehicle,” and that it pay its employees “without reimbursement from the contractor.” A prime contractor that assists an otherwise bona fide small business with this kind of help also makes itself responsible for that subcontractor’s wage and withholding obligations, and for the sub’s employment-related insurances, not to mention a potential fine to the Department of Labor for “subcontractor misclassification.”
It’s difficult to determine what the full impacts of the Construction Industry Fair Play Act have been over the past ten years. The reported cases applying it — mostly from the Labor Department’s Unemployment Appeals Board – have shown that its hurdles are difficult for an accused contractor to overcome. But there is no way to know what effect it has had in reducing opportunity for entrepreneurial individuals and financially disadvantaged businesses.
Authored by Anthony J. Adams, Jr., a founding partner of Adams Leclair. His practice has focused on commercial litigation and all aspects of construction law, including public contracts, private contract negotiation, claims, labor relations, risk management and other general business matters.
Virtual mediations have become more commonplace in the practice of law since March 2020. That shouldn’t be a big deal, right? Isn’t it just like preparing for an in-person mediation? Well, the answer may surprise you. Hon. Thomas A. Stander (Ret.) provides important tips to prepare your cases for virtual mediations through a videoconference platform such as Zoom in his Advocate’s View article in the Daily Record. Find more on how to prepare here.
Snippet from article:
It’s March 2020, and at first, I thought — we all thought — mediations will have to be put on hold until we can do them “in person.” However, it quickly became apparent that doing anything in person would involve risk and adhering to stringent protocols. The courts were on hold, and if the practice of law were to continue, the litigation world could not remain on hold too. We couldn’t wait around for everything to get back to “normal” in the courts. Still, there was a feeling that virtual mediations would be too difficult to set up, cumbersome, and ultimately not successful. The early consensus was that virtual mediations are not the way we have always done things, so they probably won’t work. But challenging that “muscle memory” — doing what we’ve always done — is how you create opportunity… Read the full article here.
As a result of the pandemic, New York protected both commercial and residential tenants from eviction. Eviction proceedings have been paused and modified for nearly six months because of Executive Orders, legislation, and judicial Administrative Orders.
This article summarizes the background of New York’s eviction moratorium and the status of eviction proceedings while highlighting considerations for landlords and tenants moving forward.
Read the full article on New York’s eviction moratorium here and in the Daily Record.
Robert P. Yawman is an associate attorney with Adams Leclair LLP. Rob can be reached at ryawman(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)adamsleclair.law.
Eight Adams Leclair Attorneys Selected by Peers for Inclusion in the 2021 Best Lawyers in America©
It is our distinct pleasure to announce that more than half of the attorneys at Adams Leclair LLP have been selected for inclusion in the 2021 Best Lawyers in America.© This year’s recognitions include eight lawyers, listed below.
Best Lawyers is one of the oldest and most-respected peer-review publications in the legal industry. To be selected for this honor, attorneys are nominated and reviewed by their peers on the basis of professional expertise. They must undergo an authentication process to make sure they are in current practice and in good standing.
Adams Leclair attorneys have been recognized in this publication as far back as 2001, indicating a long-standing commitment to their fields of interest and a dedication to advancing the legal profession.
Adams Leclair LLP recently celebrated its first anniversary as a law firm that concentrates its practice in commercial and construction advocacy in upstate New York. In September 2019, the construction litigation practitioners from Adams Bell Adams PC and the commercial litigators from Leclair Korona Cole LLP joined together to offer specialized counsel, honed by decades of experience in state and federal courts at the trial and appellate level.
The attorneys who have been included in the 2021 list is below, followed by the areas of practice for which they are being recognized. The year in parentheses is the first year they were given this honor. Congratulations to all!
Stacey Trien (2021)
Employment Law – Individuals
Litigation – Insurance
Paul L. Leclair (2001)
Anthony J. Adams, Jr. (2008)
Litigation – Construction
Litigation – Trusts and Estates
Steven E. Cole (2012)
Litigation – Securities
Richard T. Bell, Jr. (2019)
Daniel P. Adams (2018)
Litigation – Construction
Jeremy Sher (2019)
Litigation – Insurance
Mary Jo S. Korona (2008)
Bankruptcy and Creditor Debtor Rights / Insolvency and Reorganization Law
When a teacher at a religious private school is fired for reasons she believes are discriminatory, can she bring an employment discrimination claim against the school? This issue came before the US Supreme Court last term in a case where two teachers who had worked for Catholic schools alleged disability discrimination and pregnancy discrimination. In his article recently featured in the Advocate’s View of The Daily Record, Associate Jared Cook discusses The Court’s decision strengthening the ministerial exemption and how free exercise doctrine and the church autonomy doctrine come into play.
Read more about the employment discrimination case here.