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Canvasser Services v. Employment Department

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Canvasser Services v. Employment Department is a lawsuit decided by the Court of Appeals of the state of Oregon in October 1999. The court ruled that signature gatherers collecting signatures on initiative petitions must be regarded as employees, not independent contractors.

Background

The plaintiff, Canvasser Services, was a petition drive management company. In the course of doing its business, Canvasser Services would hire and train individuals to collect signatures on initiative petitions. Canvasser Services regarded these individuals as independent contractors, not as employees; the signature gatherers it worked with were paid by the signature.

In an administrative decision, an administrative law judge had ruled in an employment tax case that, contrary to the beliefs of Canvasser Services, it was an employer subject to Oregon's unemployment compensation law. The case came about because a circulator filed for unemployment compensation benefits, listing Canvasser Services as her last employer. The company denied the claim for unemployment taxes on the grounds that the person seeking unemployment had not been an employee but, rather, an independent contractor. The "Employment Department" (ED) of the state of Oregon conducted an audit of the company, and ruled in favor of the former employee/independent contractor. Conducting a further audit, the ED then determined that all circulators who had worked for CS in 1995, 1996 and parts of 1997 were also employees and that CS would have to pay a retroactive tax on all their earnings. This determination led CS to file Canvasser Services v. Employment Department.

Legal reasoning in the case

The court of appeals ruled as it did by comparing a list of the characteristics of independent contractors as defined by Oregon employment law to the relationship that existed between CS and the signature gatherers it worked with. While the signature gatherers working for CS met some of the tests for independence, they did not meet most of them.

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