Cheerleaders Are Employees! (at Least in California)

Thanks to the Oakland Raiderettes, every pro cheerleader in California now has employee status. (Photo by Pete Sheffield)

A few weeks ago, we discussed the difference between employees and contractors––and why it’s important for business owners to know the difference. Governor Jerry Brown of California agrees. Yesterday, he approved legislation recognizing California’s professional cheerleaders as employees who are entitled to minimum wage and overtime.

The new law requires California sports teams to treat pro cheerleaders as employees instead of contractors and provide them with sick leave and overtime pay, as well as the standard labor protections that apply to other team employees.

For now, the law only applies to California cheerleaders, but a similar law is pending in New York.

The California bill came as the result of a wage-theft lawsuit filed by the Oakland Raiderettes, who were paid less than $5 per hour (California minimum wage is $9 per hour). The Raiderettes’ contracts did not compensate them for the time they spent rehearsing or making public appearances. And they weren’t reimbursed for travel and other expenses.

So let’s put it to the IRS test:

  1. Behavioral Control: Are pro cheerleaders able to control how, where, and when they do their job? Do they get to decide their own working hours or where they conduct their business? Nope.
  2. Financial Control: Can cheerleaders hire subcontractors to cover aspects of their job, or outsource certain tasks? Nah.
  3. Type of Relationship: Are cheerleaders expected to be at certain places at certain times, and not just show up when they feel like it? We assume so.
    Do they need to request time off rather than simply letting their managers know they’ll be gone? No idea on this one. But it’s probably safe to assume that none of the Warrior Girls jetted off to the Bahamas during the NBA playoffs.

In addition to the Raiderettes, pro cheer squads affiliated with at least nine other teams in the Golden State are kicking extra high today:

San Diego Chargers
San Francisco 49ers

Golden State Warriors
LA Clippers
LA Lakers
Sacramento Kings

Anaheim Ducks
LA Kings
San Jose Sharks

The NFL has kept its distance from the controversy, saying that it doesn’t manage cheerleaders’ employment.

Ultimately, the Raiderettes settled for a $1.25 million payment. Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleaders received a similar settlement.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: be sure you know if your workers are employees or contractors. Getting it wrong is expensive.