“Direct Threat” Defense to Discriminating Against HIV+ and Hep C+ Performers

Recently, there has been much discussion about whether performers in the industry who are HIV+ or Hep C+ or even previously infected with a disease such as syphilis should or could be allowed to perform again, even with condoms. This author has seen numerous tweets, forum message board posts and comments debating whether a production company could knowingly discriminate against a performer who has been infected with a non-curable disease that would be considered a disability under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).

Many commentators and arm-chair attorneys have put forth the notion that to not allow such performers to work in the adult entertainment industry as performers in front of the camera would amount to an unlawful discriminatory act, actionable in court. While this might be true, employers do have a defense to such if they can establish that the infected employee is a “direct threat to the health and safety” of the other performers on set. OSHA and CalOSHA require that all workplaces are safe and free from hazards for all employees.

The direct threat defense is a narrow exception to the general rule that employers may not discriminate based on disability. An employer’s determination that an employee poses a direct threat cannot be based on fears, misconceptions, or stereotypes about the employee’s disability. The employer must make a reasonable medical judgment, relying on the most current medical knowledge and the best available objective evidence.

In deciding whether a direct threat exists, an employer should consider:

  • the duration of the risk
  • the nature and severity of the potential harm
  • how likely it is that the potential harm will occur, and
  • how imminent the potential harm is.

These factors must be weighed against each other to decide whether a direct threat is present. Even if an infected performer is using a condom does this negate any and all possibility of transmission of HIV or other various bloodborne pathogen illnesses during a scene ? What if the condom breaks ? What if the male performer prematurely ejaculates inside of the vaginal or anal cavity or his co-performer ? What risk is there to other members of the crew ? These are questions that need to be answered and addressed by not only the production company staff but also their medical team.

In 2002 the United States Supreme Court squarely decided this issue in the seminal case of Chevron USA Inc. v. Echazabal. Mario Echazabal worked at Chevron’s El Segundo, California oil refinery for some twenty years. During this time, he worked as a laborer, helper, and pipefitter for various maintenance contractors, primarily in the coker unit. In 1992, Echazabal applied to work directly for Chevron at the refinery’s coker unit as a pipefitter/mechanic. He again applied in 1995 for the position of plant helper. On both occasions, Chevron determined that Echazabal was qualified for the job and could perform its essential functions based on his past work history, and extended Echazabal job offers contingent on his passing a physical examination. In late 1993, Echazabal was diagnosed as having chronic active Hepatitis C.

After examination and review, Chevron’s physicians concluded that Echazabal should not be exposed to the solvents and liver-toxic chemicals in the refinery and Chevron withdrew its offer to hire him. They reached this conclusion even though Echazabal’s physicians had not issued any restrictions precluding him from working in the refinery.

Chevron’s decision was based on a medical assessment-which Echazabal contested was not grounded in current medical knowledge or the best available objective evidence-of the ability of Echazabal’s liver to cleanse itself of the chemicals to which he had been, and would continue to be, exposed in the refinery.

The Supreme Court held that before excluding Echazabal as a direct threat, Chevron was required under EEOC regulations to show that it had made an individualized assessment of his then current ability to perform essential job functions. This evaluation was required to have been derived from current medical knowledge and objective evidence.

The EEOC regulations, which were upheld in Chevron, set forth four factors for determining whether a direct threat exists: (1) the potential duration of the threat; (2) the nature and severity of the threat; (3) the likelihood that the threat will occur; and (4) the imminence of the threat. The Supreme Court found this approach reasonable because it supports a particularized analysis of the harm to the employee.

Even though Echzabal posed no harm to any other employee, his Hepatitis C combined with the exposure to the toxins at the refinery posed a threat to his own life. The Supreme Court held that even a threat to one’s self was enough to find that Chevron did not discriminate against Echzabal and remanded the case back to the Ninth Circuit for further hearings. Under the EEOC regulations, Chevron bore the evidentiary burden of establishing the existence of a direct threat. The individualized determination of direct threat also required Chevron to prove that possible accommodations were examined and found not to exist within reason.

I have highlighted that last sentence since it is so important in this matter. While it may be medically possible to determine that a HIV+ or Hep C+ performer is a “direct threat” under the four factors (again each case is different and will be factually based on how and what type of content each company produces) it does not mean that you can simply not hire that performer for any position on the set. It would be recommend that if another position is available (camera person, production assistant, videographer, lighting, craft services ect) that does not require the possibility of fluid transmission, that the HIV+ or Hep C+ performer be employed in that capacity. There is no basis under the “direct threat” defense that an HIV+ or Hep C+ person could not work in any other capacity on set. Failure to accommodate a potential employee’s medical condition can and will likely result in a claim of discrimination with the EEOC or California’s equivalent FEHA.

Therefore, this author cautions any studio or employer in the adult industry that is faced with the potential hiring of an chronically infected performer to seek the legal advice of an attorney experienced and knowledgeable in employment law before making any decisions or even comments to the potential performer. Remember, each potential hire will require an individual assessment as the direct threat. A studio cannot make a blanket decision that they will simply not hire a chronically infected performer.


Lawsuit Roundup: NY Models File $20 Mil Class Action Lawsuit Against Agents

Models Sue Top Agencies for $20M

MANHATTAN (CN) – Professional models sued top modeling and ad agencies and cosmetics firms in a $20 million class action, claiming the defendants continue to profit from models’ work after their contracts expire.

Raske says the agencies typically demand 20 percent booking fees. “These agreements contain industry wide terms and are commonly for a period of three years,” the complaint states.

She claims that the dozens of defendant agencies “commonly, without the knowledge of the models and or without legal authority or permission, either forge the models’ signatures and/or execute documents as if the modeling agencies had contacted the models and had the legal authority to execute the documents.”

She claims the agencies do not disclose “statements/breakdowns to the models.”

“Since the models are unaware of the extended/expanded usages for which the modeling agencies have negotiated and received payment on their behalf, unless the models somehow fortuitously discover the use of their image on a product or in an advertisement, the models never demand or receive payment and at the very least, the modeling agencies are unjustly enriched by the models’ funds,” the complaint states.

Raske claims that when other models voiced similar claims in Fears v. Wilhelmina Model Agency, the agencies “attempted to threaten and intimidate” them into dropping their claims. “The models were told by the modeling agencies that any models that participated in the class action would be ‘blackballed’ and would ‘never again model in New York,'” according to the complaint.

Read more at Courthouse News -> http://www.entlawdigest.com/2012/10/18/1891.htm

Strip Club Fees Aren’t Tax Exempt, Court Says

(CN) – Strip club dances are not “cultural and artistic” enough to qualify for a state tax break, New York’s high court ruled.
The New York Court of Appeals ruled 4-3 that the admission fees and private dance fees of Nite Moves, an adult “juice bar” in Latham, are not tax exempt. State law allows New York to tax admission fees to “any place of amusement,” including sporting events, zoos and ice shows, but grants an exception for “dramatic or musical arts performances.”

Nite Moves owner New Loudon Corp. argued that its exotic stage and private dances qualify as musical arts performances under this exemption. But the appellate majority disagreed, upholding the Tax Appeals Tribunal’s ruling against the strip club.

Read more at Courthouse News -> http://www.entlawdigest.com/2012/10/24/1907.htm

Strippers Win $13 Million Class Settlement

LOS ANGELES (CN) – A federal judge approved a $12.9 million class settlement for exotic dancers who claimed strip clubs denied them benefits by calling them independent contractors.

More than a dozen dancers settled the 3-year-old class action with several operators of adult entertainment clubs. Among other abuses, the dancers claimed that clubs helped themselves to more than half their tips, penalized them for not selling enough drinks to customers, and made them pay stage fees. Defendants included the Spearmint Rhino.

Under the terms of the settlement, the clubs will treat dancers as either employees, partners or shareholders in their businesses, and in California, dancers will no longer have to cough up pay-to-perform fees.

Read more at Courthouse News -> http://www.entlawdigest.com/2012/10/10/1868.htm


Exxxotica NJ: “Breaking into the Biz” Seminar Nov 9-11th

If you are interested in getting into the adult business as a producer, director or even as a pornstar (or just want to hear some behind the scenes stories) and live within driving distance of Edison, NJ then you should come to Exxxotica Expo and my seminar series. I will be doing a seminar on all 3 days of the show, each a little different so if possible come all 3 days and learn the “ins & outs” of the porn business.

Buy your tickets here -> http://nj.exxxoticaexpo.com/tickets/

From ExxxoticaExpo.com

Breaking Into The Biz: A How-To Guide To Getting Into The Adult Industry
Moderated by Michael Fattorosi, Adult Industry Attorney

Single-handedly the most asked question we get is, “How do I get into the biz?” Well, here’s your chance! What do you really need to know to break into the biz? Whether you want to be a webcam model, fetish producer or even a pornstar, this seminar can show you how you can be making money by the next day! Need some extra cash to help pay the mortgage or even the car? A few hours on cam and you can have it. Want to try your hand at being a director or performer but dont know how to set up a website or distribute your movies? We can show you how! The industry is easier now more then ever to get into so come learn how to grab a piece of a $10 billion dollar a year industry for yourself!”

Make sure you click here and “Like” or “Tweet” my seminar -> http://nj.exxxoticaexpo.com/seminar-breaking-into-the-biz/

Adult Lawsuit Round-Up: Grip Forced by AEBN to Inject Penis on Gay Porn Set ?

San Francisco, CA – Ronald Baker claims Adult Entertainment Broadcast Network and others required employees to inject “models” with TriMix, which came via U.S. mail without prescriptions – “It is significant that defendants required its employees to perform injections in the penises of models engaged in pornography in which the employer does not know the HIV or hepatitis status of the models injected. Such conduct is startling given that the models are engaging in sexual conduct at the behest of the employer to shoot pornographic films for profit.”

Read More at Courthouse News – http://www.courthousenews.com/2012/10/15/51261.htm

Houston, TX – Strip club owners sued Houston, claiming the city is unconstitutionally taxing them $5 per customer to fund the city’s backlog on processing of rape kits. The politely named Hospitality Executives of Houston sued Houston in Harris County Court. The nonprofit Hospitality Executives represent semi-nude strip club operators in Houston that allow alcohol consumption.

Read More at Courthouse News – http://www.courthousenews.com/2012/10/15/51266.htm

Houston, TX – A strip club ran up $5,300 on a customer’s American Express card for “dances that never took place,” a dancer stole his watch, then guards kicked the bejeezus out of him, a man claims in court. Michael Vernon sued American Express, D. Houston Inc. dba Treasures nightclub, and its directors Ali “David” Davari and Hassan “George” Davari, in Harris County Court.

Read More at Courthouse News – http://www.courthousenews.com/2012/10/15/51265.htm

Decriminalizing Prostitution, OSHA and Porn

In my research I often happen upon interesting articles, cases or even regulations. A few weeks ago I was involved in a conversation on Twitter with Maggie McNeil that peeked my interest into the status of sex industry in New Zealand ( http://maggiemcneill.wordpress.com/ ). Ms. McNeil is a self described librarian, housewife, call girl and a madam, who likes to own the word “whore.” During the conversation she kept referring to how New Zealand had decriminalized prostitution and how it could serve as a model to other to other countries. Not knowing much about New Zealand law or how they treat escorts and prostitutes I decided to do some research.

What I found is not only interesting in its application to the escorting industry but also to adult entertainment in the United States. In 2003 New Zealand passed the Prostitution Reform Act. The Act removed voluntary adult (18) prostitution from the criminal law and replaced it with civil law at both national and local level. A distinction was made between voluntary and involuntary prostitution. To this day it remains a crime in New Zealand to coerce someone to provide sexual services. Contracts between provider and client are know recognized by the courts of New Zealand and providers have the right to refuse services to clients. Advertising however is still banned with the exception of print media which is restricted.

Upon passing the Prostitution Reform Act, the government of New Zealand went even further and decided to adopt health and safety regulations in regards to prostitution. New Zealand’s version of Cal-OSHA devised a 101 page detailed “Guide to Occupational Health and Safety in the New Zealand Sex Industry” ( Download a copy here NewZealandOSHAregsexindustry-1 ).

New Zealand OSHA’s guide to the sex industry is comprehensive and detailed. It addresses a wide range of issues, including employees, independent contractors, appropriate clothing for prostitutes, repetitive stress injuries, unions, work breaks in between clients to even fire extinguishers and safety equipment in brothels. It is far more detailed then the regulations currently being instituted by Cal-OSHA on the adult entertainment industry and does so in a manner that works with the those it tries to regulate instead of forcing it upon them

New Zealand OSHA devised the regulations with the assistance and help of the sex industry. The first page of the guide states;

“These guidelines are based on those developed by the Scarlet Alliance, an
Australian forum for sex workers’ rights organisations, and the Australian
Federation of AIDS Organisations, titled A Guide to Best Practice:
Occupational Health and Safety in the Australian Sex Industry, compiled
by David Edler.
OSH acknowledges the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective who provided
industry-specific information and understanding of the sex industry in
New Zealand.”

Not only did New Zealand OSHA work with a New Zealand sex worker’s alliance but also an Australian sex workers’ rights organization ( Please see: http://www.nzpc.org.nz/ and http://www.scarletalliance.org.au/ ). They they also worked with Australian Federation of AIDS Organizations ( Please see: http://www.afao.org.au/ ). The Australian Federation of AIDS Organizations also work closely with the Scarlet Alliance and the Australian Sex Workers Association, unlike AHF in the United States that does not have a relationship with any of the sex worker industries.

What is even more surprising is what the New Zealand OSHA regulations state in regards to condoms. From page 37 of the Guide;

“Employers should not only require condom use, but should also identify
condom use and other safer sex practices clearly to employees and clients as
the standard, expected practice of the establishment.”

Condoms are “expected” not mandated. Fines can be imposed for not requiring condoms however, unlike violating Ballot Measure B, violating the condom expectation in New Zealand will not result in jail time. Even customers can be fined for removing condoms during sex ( Please see: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-355879/NZ-man-fined-removing-condom.html )

It also appears that New Zealand OSHA takes a more reasoned approach to STIs in the prostitution industry then Cal-OSHA does in regards to porn, from page 39;

“Each person must accept responsibility for preventing themselves and
others from becoming infected with sexually transmissible infections.
There are many infections, including HIV, that can be transmitted through
sexual intercourse. The consistent use of condoms for oral, vaginal and
anal sex will prevent most of these from being transmitted.
Syphilis and blood-borne viruses such as HIV and Hepatitis B and C
can be transmitted by means other than penetrative sex and other sexual
activity. This includes the sharing of needles and other drug-injecting
equipment among injecting drug users (IDUs), unsterile skin-piercing
procedures, childbirth and breastfeeding, and transfusion of infected

It implies a personally responsibility to remain safe as opposed to treating semen and bodily fluids as though they were dangerous chemicals requiring immediate treatment.

The other interesting aspect to the regulations is that they only apply to employers with more than 5 employees and/or any group of 5 or more prostitutes working together in a collective situation ( Please see: http://www.nzpc.org.nz/page.php?page_name=Law ). This is unlike Ballot Measure B which will affect all legal commercial sex in Los Angeles County, even married monogamous couples web camming from their own home. The United States’ Americans with Disabilities Act only applies to employers with 15 or more employees ( Please see: http://www.ada.gov/q%26aeng02.htm ) and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, California’s version of the ADA, only applies to employers with 5 or more employees for most claims. ( Please see: http://www.fehc.ca.gov/act/default.asp ). Ballot Measure B will effect all employers whether they have no employees or 100+ employees. This will place a tremendous financial burden on the smallest of producers who will be required to obtain an expensive health permit if Ballot Measure B passes.

None the less, it is this author’s opinion that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Los Angeles City Council and Cal-OSHA can take a valuable lesson from the government of New Zealand on how to work with an industry they are trying to regulate. New Zealand OSHA, obviously was better informed and more understanding of the health and safety of prostitutes as well as the business necessities of the brothels when they developed their regulations than Los Angeles county and city officials as well as Cal-OSHA has been in regards to the adult entertainment industry in California.

Discrimination Against Pornstars, Escorts, Kinksters and Swingers

One area of law that often receives much publicity in the mainstream media is employment law. There are always news reports of litigation about sex discrimination in the work place. Media loves reporting on multi-million dollar judgments in sexual harassment cases, especially those involving celebrities. They also love a story involving a pornstar getting fired from a job because of his/her porn-past.

Recently, I appeared on Taboo Fetish Radio, hosted by Sydney Screams and Whitney Morgan, to talk about what protections current and former pornstars, escorts, sex workers and even those with an alternative lifestyle such as Kinksters or Swingers have in regards to being singled out and fired from their jobs ( Please see:  http://www.blogtalkradio.com/porn-star-radio/2012/09/20/taboo-fetish-talk ).

In a recent case that is still being litigated, Ms. Stacie Halas, a middle school teacher, was fired from her teaching position with the Oxnard School District in California on April 18, 2012 for her involvement in pornography movies. ( Please see: http://www.vcstar.com/news/2012/jul/23/judge-to-hear-dismissal-case-of-oxnard-teacher/ )

“The school board voted unanimously April 18 to fire Halas, saying her continued employment would disturb the classroom environment. Halas appealed the decision to the Office of Administrative Hearing, a quasi-judicial tribunal that handles such disputes. In a notice of defense, Halas’ other attorney, Rich Schwab, says Halas did nothing illegal and is fit to teach.

In accusation documents filed with the Office of Administrative Hearing, the school district says Halas lied about her connection to pornography and about the reason she resigned from a neighboring district. In the days after the discovery of the pornographic movies, district officials said students talked about and watched the movies on campus, and a classroom where Halas once taught was vandalized.”

It appears from this quote that the underlying reasons for Ms. Halas’s termination was not actually her involvement in pornographic movies but rather the falsification of her employment application. This is a common way for employers, especially in California, to fire an employee at anytime for basically any reason. Many state and federal courts have held that if an employee lies on his/her employment application then they have basically defrauded the employer into hiring them and thus has no legal recourse even if they were fired illegally. The doctrine of unclean hands comes into play and that falsification can act as almost a complete bar to later claims by employee for being fired for a non-lawful discriminatory cause such as race, gender, sexual orientation, skin color or place of national origin.

Basically, if you lie on your employment application you will have a mountain to climb to even be able to sue your employer for any reason, even if your boss tried to force you to provide him/her sex on the job in exchange for not firing you ( You would still have a lawsuit against your boss individually though ).

Courts have generally adopted the following line of reasoning as noted in Summers v. State Farm Automobile Ins.,  ; ( Please see: http://bulk.resource.org/courts.gov/c/F2/864/864.F2d.700.87-1087.html )

Many of the courts have accepted an analogy posited in Summers : “The present case is akin to the hypothetical wherein a company doctor is fired because of his age, race, religion, and sex and the company, in defending a civil rights action, thereafter discovers that the discharged employee was not a ‘doctor.’ In our view, the masquerading doctor would be entitled to no relief, and Summers is in no better position.”

Courts are rarely sympathetic to employees that are less then truthful when applying for employment. A prospective employee that has a past in pornography, prostitution or even an alternative lifestyle may not be desirable hiring choice for many employers, especially those that have mainstream visibility or conservative clients. Even visible tattoos has been an issue in regards to being employment.

Obviously, prior employment or self employment is a much larger issue when it comes to future employment applications. Those that are or have been sex workers, whether in adult films, as an escort, stripper, dominatrix, sub, unlicensed massage parlor worker or any of a number of related fields have the highest risk when falsifying an employment application. Anyone would be hard pressed to find a court decision finding that an employer, who terminated a such an employee, would be liable for a discriminatory termination. ( If any of my readers know of any such appellate court decision from any state in the United States I would very much appreciate that information.) Therefore, I am watching Ms. Halas’s lawsuit with great interest. Her claims may set a positive legal precedent as to protecting individual sexual liberties but I have my doubts.

As for lifestyle choices such as BDSM or swinging, since these do not apply to previous employment there is much less of a risk of not revealing these choices to a prospective employer on an employment application. However, if your involvement in those lifestyle choices did involve earning income from them such has producing content and selling it on a Clips4Sale.com store that might be seen as self employment by your employer.

There might be one exception to this situation. While I have found no cases on point involving sex workers or alternative lifestyle choices, there would be an argument for a terminated employee to make if the employer had discovered the falsification on the application and did not do anything about it immediately. Meaning that if you lied on your employment application and four days into your employment your employer or supervisor discovers your lie and takes no action but five years later tries to fire you for the falsification as a pretense for some other reason you might have a defensible position however I cannot state for certainty whether that would provide the basis for a victory against your employer.

The lesson in this is that if you lie on your employment application it can come back to haunt you, even many years later. Obviously being completely honest about your past or present may cost getting you a job. What you decide to reveal on an employment application is a personal decision. Just be aware of the law.

Returning to Work ? Somethings You Should Know…

September 3, 2012, Labor Day, ironically, is the day that the FSC/APHSS has determined to be the best day to return adult performers to a regular production schedule, a mere 10 days after receiving a prophylactic antibiotic shot to hopefully cure the syphilis outbreak in the industry. Now that the moratorium on production has been lifted, be safe and here’s some facts that you should know before you head off to set;

  • There are 9 performers in adult confirmed positive for syphilis as of today;
  • Syphilis may take up to 90 days to detect through testing with the average range being 21 days;
  • Once you test positive for syphilis you may always test positive for syphilis;
  • If you are receiving your test results through APHSS you may not know that you are working with another performer that previously tested positive for syphilis – the APHSS database only tells you whether someone is “cleared” to work;
  • There is a disagreement between APHSS and TTS as to the proper test to use to detect syphilis;
  • APHSS states that their required and mandatory re-test can detect syphilis at 14 days while TTS states two tests are necessary to detect it this quickly.
  • Only 300 performers opted to take the antibiotic shot;
  • Despite the moratorium on production, there were some production companies and agents that continued to book scenes;
  • Some performers continued to escort during the moratorium;
  • Condoms may not protect you from catching or spreading syphilis;
  • Treatment for syphilis may make birth control pills ineffective;
  • Often those with syphilis do not show any symptoms of the disease;
  • In the primary and secondary stages syphilis is very contagious;
  • If a performer’s off camera sex partner(s) were not treated it is possible to reinfect those that were treated;
  • An antibiotic shot is not a vaccine and a performer can be reinfected quite easily;
  • If you catch syphilis, receive treatment and then get reinfected it will require 1 shot a week for 3 weeks to cure it;
  • Having an open syphilis sore makes it 2 to 5 times more likely that you can transmit/contract HIV during sex.

If there are any facts I have let off this list please feel free to add a comment to this article and I will add them to the list.

Syphilis and Forced Employer Vaccinations…

Today APHSS & the FSC begin a regiment of providing free antibiotic shots to porn performers in order to prevent the spread of syphilis. I have received numerous emails, texts, phone calls and DMs on Twitter from various members of the adult industry community as to the legality of an employer demanding that a worker receive a prophylactic antibiotic shot an as a condition of employment.

Basically, it is my understanding that certain production companies will not hire a particular performer unless they can show proof of receiving the antibiotic shot for syphilis through the APHSS system. I am unaware of any exception to this condition by APHSS or FSC that would allow a performer to seek out the consultation of their own physician as to the risks and benefits of receiving such treatment. Even though the prophylactic antibiotic shots begin today very little information has been disseminated to the performers other then if they receive the shot they can return to work in as little as 10 days. I have not seen much in the way of information being provided to the performers in regards to the risks of the antibiotic shot or the side effects of such. Nor have I seen much in the way of alternatives being proposed.

I cannot and will not provide medical advice. What I can say is that, legally, every person has the right to chose their own medical treatment from their own physician and if necessary refuse such treatment.

In California it is a well established rule of law that a physician who performs any medical procedure without the patient’s consent commits a battery irrespective of the skill or care used. The consent of a patient must be “informed.” Under the doctrine of informed consent the patient must have the capacity to reason and make judgments, the decision must be made voluntarily and without coercion, and the patient must have a clear understanding of the risks and benefits of the proposed treatment alternatives or nontreatment, along with a full understanding of the nature of the disease and the prognosis. Accordingly, the right to refuse medical treatment is equally “basic and fundamental” and integral to the concept of informed consent.

I urge all performers to seek out a consultation from their own physician as to the need for antibiotics for treatment for a disease they may not have and may not have even been exposed to.

As to whether an employer may force inoculations/vaccinations as a condition of employment it may be permissible under California law, however, any performer having an adverse reaction to the inoculation/vaccination would have a civil lawsuit and a workers’ compensation claim against the entities and production companies requiring such inoculation/vaccination as a condition of employment. In Maher v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd., 33 Cal.3d 729 (1983), a nurse’s assistant was required by her employer to undergo a physical examination that included a test for tuberculosis. When she tested positive for the disease, she was required to undergo treatment for tuberculosis as a condition of continued employment. She developed a significant adverse reaction to the treatment. The California Supreme Court held that employer-required medical treatment for a nonoccupational disease arises out of the employment and is compensable. (Id. at p. 738; see also Roberts v. U.S.O. Camp Shows, Inc. (1949) 91 Cal.App.2d 884, 885 [205 P.2d 1116] (Incapacity caused by illness from vaccination or inoculation may properly be found to have arisen out of the employment where such treatment is submitted to pursuant to the direction or for the benefit of the employer.)

By demanding and directing the prophylactic antibiotic shot, those production companies requiring such open themselves up to a myriad of liability as to any death, incapacity or future treatment resulting from such decision. It is cautioned that the performers seek medical advice as to the treatment and production companies seek legal advice to the ramifications of demanding forced prophylactic antibiotic shot as a condition of employment.

No Work Comp? What Employers Need to Know!

As my readers are now aware from my article posted on August 19th – Work Comp: Porn Performers EEs vs. ICs, performers are indeed employees in the state of California for purposes of worker safety laws. California, as many other states do, requires that all employers within its borders secure workers’ compensation insurance coverage. However, what happens if an employer is uninsured for workers’ compensation in the state of California ?  California has rather harsh penalties for failure to secure workers’ compensation insurance, the California Labor Code reads in relevant part;

3700.5. (a) The failure to secure the payment of compensation as required by this article by one who knew, or because of his or her knowledge or experience should be reasonably expected to have known, of the obligation to secure the payment of compensation, is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year, or by a fine of up to double the amount of premium, as determined by the court, that would otherwise have been due to secure the payment of compensation during the time compensation was not secured, but not less than ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine.

(b) A second or subsequent conviction shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for a period not to exceed one year, by a fine of triple the amount of premium, or by both that imprisonment and fine, as determined by the court, that would otherwise have been due to secure the payment of compensation during the time payment was not secured, but not less than fifty thousand dollars ($50,000).

In addition to possible imprisonment and fines, the state of California can issue penalties of up to one hundred thousands dollars ($100,000) against the employer in addition to the amounts listed above even for a first offense. The uninsured employer will also be subject to a stop order being levied against it by the Director of Industrial Relations. A stop order is basically an order/finding by the Director that such employer will immediately shut down and will not conduct any business utilizing employees until such time that the employer has secured workers’ compensation insurance and presents evidence of a policy to the Director. Also, the Director will issue an additional fine of one thousand five hundred dollars per employee not legally insured;

3722. (a) At the time the stop order is issued and served pursuant to Section 3710.1, the director shall also issue and serve a penalty assessment order requiring the uninsured employer to pay to the director, for deposit in the State Treasury to the credit of the Uninsured Employers Fund, the sum of one thousand five hundred dollars ($1,500) per employee employed at the time the order is issued and served, as an additional penalty for being uninsured at that time or issue and serve a penalty assessment order pursuant to subdivision (b).

(b) At any time that the director determines that an employer has been uninsured for a period in excess of one week during the calendar year preceding the determination, the director shall issue and serve a penalty assessment order requiring the uninsured employer to pay to the director, for deposit in the State Treasury to the credit of the Uninsured Employers Fund, the greater of (1) twice the amount the employer would have paid in workers’ compensation premiums during the period the employer was uninsured, determined according to subdivision (c), or (2) the sum of one thousand five hundred dollars ($1,500) per employee employed during the period the employer was uninsured. A penalty assessment issued and served by the director pursuant to this subdivision shall be in lieu of, and not in addition to, any other penalty issued and served by the director pursuant to subdivision (a).

I have seen the Director of Industrial Relations chain and paid lock businesses, not allowing entry until all insurance is secured and fines paid. This is not a situation that should be taken lightly. The state of California can be very aggressive in regards to prosecuting uninsured employers.

Beyond the regulatory scheme of imposing fines and possible incarceration, there are also possible negative effects in regards to a claim filed by an injured employee. In situations where an employer is insured for workers’ compensation, an injured employee’s ONLY remedy is to file a workers’ compensation claim. In instances of uninsured employers, an injured employee has several choices as to how to handle their claim for injury.

First, the injured employee may certainly still file a workers’ compensation claim with the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board as they would do if the employer was insured. The injured employee may also file a civil lawsuit in addition to the workers’ compensation claim. Finally, if the employer does not defend and/or pay benefits on the workers’ compensation claim, the Uninsured Employer’s Benefits Trust Fund will step in and do so on the behalf of the employer. If the UEBTF does in fact provide benefits on the behalf of the employer to the injured employee, they will then seek ALL possible means of reimbursement from the employer, including pursuing civil actions and the filing of liens against property.

Furthemore, the employer simply filing for bankruptcy will not stop the UEBTF from pursuing their recovery actions directly against the owners of the uninsured employer. Any owner with at least a 15% share of ownership will be personally responsible to reimburse the UEBTF for all benefits paid the the injured employee. And the state can collect all of the benefits from just one owner. Be extremely careful of whom your partners are. The California Labor Code reads in relevant part;

3717. (a) A findings and award that is the subject of a demand on the Uninsured Employers Fund or an approved compromise and release or stipulated findings and award entered into by the director pursuant to subdivision (e) of Section 3715, or a decision and order of the rehabilitation unit of the Division of Workers’ Compensation, that has become final, shall constitute a liquidated claim for damages against an employer in the amount so ascertained and fixed by the appeals board, and the appeals board shall certify the same to the director who may institute a civil action against the employer in the name of the director, as administrator of the Uninsured Employers Fund, for the collection of the award, or may obtain a judgment against the employer pursuant to Section 5806. In the event that the appeals board finds that a corporation is the employer of an injured employee, and that the corporation has not secured the payment of compensation as required by this chapter, the following persons shall be jointly and severally liable with the corporation to the director in the action:

(1) All persons who are a parent, as defined in Section 175 of the Corporations Code, of the corporation. (2) All persons who are substantial shareholders, as defined in subdivision (b), of the corporation or its parent…

(b) As used in this section, “substantial shareholder” means a shareholder who owns at least 15 percent of the total value of all classes of stock, or, if no stock has been issued, who owns at least 15 percent of the beneficial interests in the corporation.

In conclusion, penalties, fines and incarceration are all possible ramifications for not securing workers’ compensation insurance. Furthermore, employers that do not have workers’ compensation insurance are also putting their personal finances at stake in the form of civil judgments and liens enforced, not by an injured employee, but rather by the state of California through the UEBTF. If you’re an employer in the state of California and do not have workers’ compensation insurance it is imperative that you immediately seek such coverage before either (a) a work related injury occurs and/or (b) the Department of Industrial Relations does a spot inspection and issues a work stoppage order.

Work Comp: Performers – EEs vs. ICs

The debate of performers being independent contractors or employees is an issue that comes up often in my practice. Whether it is an injured or infected performer, a director worried about his/her liability for an on-set injury or a studio owner asking my assistance in securing workers’ compensation coverage for his/her company, this is an issue that remains a hotly debated topic. Many in the industry still believe that for purposes of worker safety laws performers are independent contractors and not the employees of the producer paying them, directly or indirectly. This cannot be farther from the truth. Even during the open meetings with Cal-OSHA in June 2011 I heard numerous performers and directors declare themselves independent contractors during the public comments. Only to have Ms. Gold of Cal-OSHA flatly deny that issue.

Unfortunately or fortunately depending on what side of the debate you are on, a worker cannot simply declare themselves to be something. A worker’s status is dependent upon statutes and case law, not what the beliefs of the employer OR the employee happens to be. For this article to truly explain all the relevant statutes and case law surrounding the independent contractor vs employee debate would require hundreds of pages if not an entire book. Therefore, for the sake of brevity it is perhaps easier to select two California cases that are on point with this issue and illustrates for those reading this article that this issued is well settled.

Often porn performers compare themselves to both actors as well as stunt-people. The job of a porn performer can be said to be a blend of the acting and performing risky, albeit safe, stunts on set. Many inaccurately believe that stuntpeople and porn performers cannot be an employee under the traditional definition of such since they are only hired for the day or even a few hours. This is simply not true in California and in most states ( Note: It is possible though to be an employee for worker safety laws but an independent contractor for tax purposes).

Stuntpeople have been considered employees of the production company hiring them for at least 50 years in California. In Durae v. Industrial Accident Commission, 206 Cal.App.2d 691 (1962), the Second District Court of Appeals (this happens to be the court with jurisdiction over all of Los Angeles County) determined that a stuntman was indeed an employee for workers’ compensation purposes.

Petitioner is a motion picture and television actor. He was engaged to make a personal appearance at a rodeo in Pueblo, Colorado, in August 1960. His act was to include a demonstration to the audience of how motion picture and television shows were filmed. As a part of this demonstration, a man would ride a horse at a fast pace across the area, petitioner would fire a shot at the rider, and the rider would fall from the horse, taking what, among stuntmen, is commonly called a “saddle fall” to the ground.

 Originally, the Industrial Accident Commission (the precursor of today’s Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board) ruled against the injured employee, William Mansker, finding that he was indeed an independent contractor. Mansker appealed the decision and was granted benefits by the IAC. The employer, Donald Durae, then appealed the case to the California Court of Appeals where Mansker’s award of benefits was upheld and he was determined to be an employee and not an independent contractor. The court went on to state;

This finding is compatible with the findings affirmed by the Supreme Court in two cases somewhat comparable on their facts. In Drillon v. Industrial Acc. Com., 17 Cal.2d 346 [110 P.2d 64], one who hired a jockey to ride his horse in one race was held to be an employer on the basis that he had the right to control the manner in which the jockey rode the horse. In Schaller v. Industrial Acc. Com., supra, 11 Cal.2d 46, the petitioner made separate contracts with four trapeze aerialists that each would perform his specialty for a 20-week engagement. He then agreed to provide the four aerialists as an act in a traveling show. He was held to be an employer although he in no manner directed the act or the stunts of the individual aerialists.

It is clear from the holding in this case that stuntpeople have been considered employees of their contracting companies for at least the past fifty years. This ruling is consistent with the current state of California law. Stuntpeople remain employees in California, as do most workers.

Some porn performers may consider themselves more akin to actors then stuntpeople though. However, just as stuntpeople are considered employees of the production company so are actors, even those hired and paid through a talent agency. It is a misguided belief that, by a production company not paying the talent but rather the agent, they can avoid being held liable for a work related injury. It is also a misguided belief by large production companies that hiring directors or smaller sub-contracting production companies to actually produce the content will shield them from liability. In California, we have a law referred to as the general-special employer rule. Which basically states that if Company A hires a sub-contractor -> Company B, to perform services for them and Company B hires their own employees then Company A has a duty to insure that Company B has workers’ compensation insurance. If Company A fails to “pull” the workers’ compensation insurance information of Company B and an employee of Company B suffers an injury then Company A and their workers’ compensation carrier will be liable to provide coverage for that injury.

In Johnson v. Berkofsky-Barret Productions, Inc. (1989) 211 Cal. App. 3d 1067, an actor, hired for the day, suffered a shoulder injury while filming a television commercial for IBM. He attempted to claim that he WAS NOT an employee of the production company and rather an employee of his agent so he could file a lawsuit in civil court against the production company ( Note: The injured worker preferred to be an independent contractor so that he could sue under a civil tort theory and recover pain and suffering which is not possible to recover under a workers’ compensation claim ).

Johnson, an actor in television commercials, obtained acting jobs through a company called L’Image. Generally, L’Image directed Johnson to the shooting location of the commercial and advised him how to dress. The commercial production company then paid L’Image for Johnson’s acting services and L’Image, in turn, paid Johnson after deducting its percentage fee.

 Johnson, like many porn performers, was not paid directly by the production company but rather by his agent. The court then went on to discuss the employee vs. independent contractor distinction;

Labor Code section 3351 defines an employee as “every person in the service of an employer under any appointment or contract of hire or apprenticeship, express or implied, oral or written, whether lawfully or unlawfully employed, …”

An independent contractor is “any person who renders service for a specified recompense for a specified result, under the control of his principal as to the result of his work only and not as to the means by which such result is accomplished.” (Lab. Code, § 3353.)

[5] “The label placed by the parties on their relationship is not dispositive, and subterfuges are not countenanced. [Citations.] … [¶] …. [¶] … ‘[The] principal test of an employment relationship is whether the person to whom service is rendered has the right to control the manner and means of accomplishing the result desired. …’ [Citations.] [¶]

The court then analyzed the six factors to determine employment status under S. G. Borello & Sons, Inc. v. Department of Industrial Relations (1989) 48 Cal. 3d 341 and determined that;

We therefore conclude, as a matter of law, Johnson was an employee of BBP at the time of the accident and therefore he is limited to workers’ [211 Cal. App. 3d 1074] compensation as his sole and exclusive remedy for damages resulting from personal injuries. (Lab. Code, § 3602.)

In conclusion, it is clear from Durae, Johnson and Borello, that the type of control that a production company has over a porn performer while on set (hence being “directed” by a “director”) will make them liable for workers’ compensation benefits due to an on-set injury. Further, a production company should want an injured performer to be an employee, otherwise that injured performer could sue the production company for damages resulting from pain and suffering. In the case of an on-set transmission of HIV those damages could result in millions of dollars being awarded to the infected performer. However, under workers compensation no such recovery is available. Workers’ compensation actually protects the studios more so then the performers, if a company does indeed have coverage.

In a future article I will discuss the ramifications for not having workers’ compensation insurance under California law.