Court of Temp Resort

A recent federal court decision against Microsoft has increased pressure on temp-reliant companies.

After hearing that what Microsoft called "contractors" actually had a) worked for the company for years, b) reported to the same supervisors, c) done the same work the whole time, and d) carried identification badges similar to regular employees, a federal appellate panel found that the workers were Microsoft employees. As such, they are entitled to what could amount to millions of dollars of back benefits -- though the company is appealing the decision.

Because these workers were employed directly by Microsoft, some observers in Silicon Valley have announced that local firms that go through temp agencies have nothing to fear. But Seattle attorney David Stobaugh, who represented the Microsoft workers, says that's only because legal challenges haven't been brought against the Valley's labor practices so far. "People haven't done much about it there," he says. "There haven't been any cases yet."

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He suggests the court might find that even if a worker is formally an employee of a temp agency, the worker could still be a common-law employee of a company if he or she temped there long enough. "The law always looks at the substance, not the form," he says. "Just because somebody says something doesn't make it so."

The South Bay Labor Council's Amy Dean also feels the decision gives temps a reason to be optimistic. "It essentially empowers workers and employees to know that when they come forward to bargain the terms and conditions of their employment, they can insist upon parity with core employees," she says.

-- Laurel Wellman

 
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