In the 1920s, author Gertrude Stein famously said, “A rose is a rose is a rose.” In light of Alexander v. FedEx Ground, that phrase could just as well be: an employee is an employee is an employee. Alexander is one of many cases in which the company and the workers agreed that the workers would be treated as independent contractors and not as employees. In this case, the court deemed that agreement to be meaningless. Instead, quoting the leading California case on independent contractor vs. employee, S.G. Borello & Sons, Inc. v. Department of Industrial Relations, the court looked to see whether FedEx Ground had: “the right to control the manner and means of accomplishing the result desired,” and answered yes. Therefore the agreement signed is deemed irrelevant.
The court relied on several facts in determining whether FedEx Ground controlled, or maintained the right to control, FedEx drivers. First, the court noted that FedEx Ground by contract maintained the right to control the drivers’ and their vehicles’ appearance. Drivers were to be clean-shaven, have neat hair and no body odor. The vehicles, though owned by the drivers, had to be painted a very specific shade of white and had to display FedEx logos. FedEx Ground even maintained control over the shelving in the vehicles, with specific dimensions required. The drivers—who owned the vehicles—were free to use them for their own purposes when not delivering packages for FedEx Ground, but had to remove or cover up the FedEx logo.
The court also found that FedEx Ground had the right, and actually controlled the hours worked by the drivers, requiring them to work 9.5 to 11 hours a day. The court also found that FedEx Ground controlled important aspects of how and when drivers delivered their packages. It noted that FedEx Ground assigned the drivers specific areas and negotiated windows of delivery with the customers. Thus, the driver had to deliver the package to a client within the window that FedEx Ground, not the driver, had arranged. Though FedEx Ground did not control certain parts of the delivery process, the court noted the right to control does not need to be absolute. It must simply be extensive, so that it controls not just the final result—having a package delivered—but also the means and manner used to obtain that result.