Welp, ACL is being investigated by the California Dept of Industrial Relations

I just received this same letter and questionnaire. I have only completed a few assignments for ACL and only after I asked for a bonus from a scheduler.

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Sorry if this is a stupid question, but are only current CA residents who have done shops for ACL getting this letter? I used to live in CA and completed shops for ACL, but I moved a couple of years ago. I still complete ACL shops in my new state.
The questions refer back to 2016, 2017, & 2018. I would believe if you had a forwarded address it should arrive shortly. Again, as others have stated - it's just the labor commissioner's office asking if you felt like an employee - and asks if you were issued 1099's or W-2's during those years.

To everyone just throwing the prepaid envelope in the trash - I don't see what it'll hurt to fill it out and just state you signed up as an independent contractor. I figure the more information they get from people knowingly signing up as IC's will help them finish their "investigation" soon (just as they state in the letter). No need to jump the shark! lol
I would like to answer the survey, anonymously. Will they count it if I leave out personal information?
Thanks hagie25, I received the same notice too, and I was wondering how many of us were contacted? Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending upon how you look at it), years ago, I had to file a claim with the CA Department of Industrial Relations against a former employer, which was NOT related to Mystery Shopping. At that time, I was classified as an hourly employee, however, I was not being paid for my overtime hours, which was a clear violation of the CA law. Just to be clear, I have absolutely nothing to do with this ACL case, other then being contacted now. Obviously, I am not an expert on these matters, but based upon my previous (positive) experience, with the CA Department of Industrial Relations, I would encourage everyone that was contacted to complete the form truthfully, and to the best of their abilities. If you don’t know or feel uncomfortable answering a question, just leave it blank. In my humble opinion, this case is going to have major ramifications, and it will change how we (as CA mystery shoppers) are being compensated.
[www.shrm.org]

I have not read through all 96 responses yet but before I read the last page of them I wanted to add this article about Gig economy and California's stricter rules. I can see how B in this article might be applied to us as mystery shoppers. I just got my letter yesterday. It is pretty benign so hard to tell the reason for it. I am deciding whether to answer. California is all about protecting the workers and sometimes the rules are not enjoyed by some of the workers. But I have seen time and time again posters on this site who do not understand what it means to be an independent contractor in general. They complain about not getting minimum wage, or shops they do not like they get emails about and the answer is always that you are an independent contractor and you do not have to take that shop. If many of those shoppers who post that it is not fair that they are treated this way (get offers of jobs they do not want for whatever reason) have complained to the state of California then it would trigger an investigation. IF the state decides we are in fact employees, albeit part time employees who are not entitled to full time benefits it might be better or worse for us. I don't really know. I have never worked in Nevada if their rules would apply so I have no experience with that. If we became like Nevada (why are they different and is it for the same reasons Calif may be looking into?) is it better to work in Nevada? Do you earn better fees, get more benefits than restrictions, etc. I cannot see ACL abandoning Calif but if ACL has to toe a different line here in Calif in future then all the other companies will have to do so as well.
Ha ha, i did not get a prepaid envelope with my questionnaire. If others did maybe the state decided to save some money on postage for the late receivers. Or is this a conspiracy by the state to support the post office? lol I am only saying this because there are many conspiracy theory people on this site and if they all complained to the state then the state would surely start an investigation. In any case for those bashing California, there is more here than just good weather. We enjoy many more benefits that our taxes pay for. I have never heard of anyone paying 70% in taxes. Read the news. The top tax rates are only paid on the top part of your income. So if you are in the top bracket you pay that only on that part of your income which is over the top, not all of your income. Statistically the overall rates are much lower. So you may not be interested in all the benefits of living in Calif but for now my adult daughter has health and dental insurance for free while she is in school, Many other states do not offer that. I pay taxes for that and many other things that I sometimes can find useful and very helpful .

@amanda_daville wrote:

The questions refer back to 2016, 2017, & 2018. I would believe if you had a forwarded address it should arrive shortly. Again, as others have stated - it's just the labor commissioner's office asking if you felt like an employee - and asks if you were issued 1099's or W-2's during those years.

To everyone just throwing the prepaid envelope in the trash - I don't see what it'll hurt to fill it out and just state you signed up as an independent contractor. I figure the more information they get from people knowingly signing up as IC's will help them finish their "investigation" soon (just as they state in the letter). No need to jump the shark! lol
I just happened to see and read an article that explains the California Supreme Court ruling last year and the newly passed law (last week) in California: [www.vox.com] There are three key tests: "To hire an independent contractor, businesses must prove that the worker (a) is free from the company’s control, (b) is doing work that isn’t central to the company’s business, and (c) has an independent business in that industry. If they don’t meet all three of those conditions, then they have to be classified as employees." I am not a lawyer, but I think that MSCs with contractors in California will be challenged to continue classifying them as contractors rather than employees.

Shopping Southeast Pennsylvania, Delaware above the canal, and southwestern NJ since 2008
Maybe that's a good thing. Maybe it means more $$ for Mystery Shoppers in California. All you can do is be honest and tell the truth. I would definitely be on the side that would pay me the MOST money that's for sure. According to the story it seems CA is demanding a minimum wage and also wants the GIG Workers to be considered employees. Well it's about time. To be honest these companies make so much money. For example MTURKs or Mechanical Turks also contribute to the micro worker or gig jobs and their stock is nearly $2000 per share. It's getting stronger each day. Today it was like $1729.56 PER SHARE for (one share).
[finance.yahoo.com]

[www.youtube.com] Amazon Turker Story PBS

Amazon Turk GIG /Microjobs explained [www.youtube.com]

UBER [finance.yahoo.com]

Lyft [finance.yahoo.com]

I'm sure there are others who are public or private and benefit from GIG economy but I'm just going to put these for example. You're welcome to list others. HOWEVER, the case may be. the companies LIKE AMAZON MTurks/Mechanical Turks really takes advantage of workers as well. I think that state of California is resilient and they see the numbers. Many of the people living there are on Government programs and they use GIG economy to make extra money and they are not considered employees but this is going to put a STOP to that. Also this will STOP those who take advantage of the system. I'm not speaking of anyone in particular as I don't know anyone here but those who do the following:

They are on Government programs including but not limited to: supplemental incomes, Wic, Food Stamps, SSI, etc, Disability, or something where the government pays them extra money because they cannot work or they have issues. The TAX payers pay for them because they are not full time employees. They are a part of GIG economy. This will cause them to be Employees and the corporation is responsible to help them and sure many can still get help but now the state won't have to pay out so much. So now these people will be forced to report the information on their taxes and they are now considered employees for some that will be GREAT because they will have a BASE pay and that will help. those who were trying to get over on the system and caused the per share rate to go down like a Mystery Shop company could pay us

$150 for a Apartment shop because of amount of work it can take 4 to 7 hours do do ONE shop after driving there, filling out forms, editing, etc. However, if some people are on supplements or welfare and don't care about money. They will do it for $25 or $15 dollars. So that drove the rate down. Now if many of them get off the van we might be able to get more money. We can get a base salary and the SERIOUS about making money in GIG economy will get a base pay or higher pay. But this is only in California it's not in the other states but I see how the State can view this as an opportunity to increase the TAXES and that's what I was saying the other day. It's all about the money.

Thanks for sharing the link. It will be interesting to read the viewpoints and to see this from various points of view. Pros/cons. Great discusssion.

Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 06/05/2019 03:33AM by scorpionshar777.
@scorpionshar777 wrote:

I would definitely be on the side that would pay me the MOST money that's for sure.

Considering that most ACL shops pay nothing, I can't see any detriment to them having the reclassify shoppers. Between CA and NV...NV is simply a better state to work for ACL in.
Would there be more benefit to shoppers if California was forced to go to the system mandated in Nevada? The MSPA seems to think that would be horrible for the MSCs, but would it overall actually be good for shoppers?
Nevada is always looking for California shoppers, fee's there have gone down a bit, but still better than in CA.
Would be beneficial to NV. as they overbuilt housing and could help that area as well as shopping. ACL would then have to give a fee as they would heavily compete with Coyle and many other restaurant's who pay a fee working there. Beneficial to shoppers, yes, to ACL, that remains to be seen.
edited to add to above post.....I am on Soc. Sec. and as said in above post, if we all would stop taking the jobs (Apt's.) for 15.00 to 25.00 the industry would be better off...first of all, the jobs start at 45.00 without a bonus here in L.A., and speaking for myself, I wouldn't touch it, on site 40 minutes to an hour and travel and report isn't worth my time. I know it was a general statement, but experienced shoppers do them all the time as do others, and that is (so far) the nature of this business. Why not say they should make prices comparable with the work, and include travel...
#hate blaming shoppers

Live consciously....


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 06/06/2019 04:07PM by Irene_L.A..
I think mystery shopping companies in general are going to be looked into. Some of the apartment shop companies do not even pay you for the time spent making phone calls on recorded lines even when they cancel the shop because you could not reach the target. Some will pay $5 for that. Considering the time spent on those calls 3-5 times per day over a period of even 5 days that's pittance The have the proof you are calling as the call is being tracked on the recorded lines. You should be compensated for that. What happens when I schedular cancels your shop because you made a typo and they don't allow you to fix the issue. It takes one person to get a complaint like this going from a shopper to the proper authorities.
Count me in as having received one of the forms. I haven't done anything with it yet as I'm not sure I can be of any help to them. Has anyone actually made the phone call to see what this is actually all about and could they report back here? Also, I didn't receive a pre-paid envelope, but the letter states I can email or fax it so there's that.

I've only done 1-2 shops per year on average for them because the reimbursement barely covers the required ordering options. I don't normally do reimbursement-only shops but these were special occasions wherein I was going to the restaurant anyway! Like we had actually planned a trip to that fun pizza place for kids, so why not make it a shop? But the form was sooooo long and tedious it just wasn't worth the measly $40. I'll do shops for them in the future, but -only- if they are bonused.
@roflwofl wrote:

Would there be more benefit to shoppers if California was forced to go to the system mandated in Nevada? The MSPA seems to think that would be horrible for the MSCs, but would it overall actually be good for shoppers?


Well...yes, since they would have to pay a fee! On the other hand, their system of forcing shoppers to take the crappy pizza shops would probably get worse, but at least you would make money at the crappy pizza shop.

Here's what I also learned from when I was a employee shopper in CA. They have to offer an option that's 100% reimbursed, so no more shorting the shopper on dinner shops. They also have to pay you, even if you screw the shop up. It's their fault as an employer if you are not well trained....so even if the client rejects the shop, or your report is late, you still get paid!. They can give you a warning after the first one and fire you if it continues, but I liked knowing that I was protected by labor laws when I was an employee shopper.

You would make money working for them, even if it's not that much. For the past 5 years I have lost $$ on ACL shops, which is why I quit working for them.
SteveSoCal, I kinda like the ACL employee terms you mentioned: Full reimbursement, no more out of pocket, plus if you did not do everything right, it is their fault for not fully trained you, or I think, for having written contradicting and confusing guidelines. These are sure better than the way ACL pays right now. I too, are now picky, and have not taken a job with ACL for the last few months. Their reports are too long, too many photos to download, not to mention taking them at the location which is always awkward, and on top of that, expected to pay out of pocket from $25-50, plus parking, gas and bridge toll.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 06/06/2019 03:50AM by ShopperFun99.
That would be a dream!!

@SteveSoCal wrote:

@roflwofl wrote:

Would there be more benefit to shoppers if California was forced to go to the system mandated in Nevada? The MSPA seems to think that would be horrible for the MSCs, but would it overall actually be good for shoppers?


Well...yes, since they would have to pay a fee! On the other hand, their system of forcing shoppers to take the crappy pizza shops would probably get worse, but at least you would make money at the crappy pizza shop.

Here's what I also learned from when I was a employee shopper in CA. They have to offer an option that's 100% reimbursed, so no more shorting the shopper on dinner shops. They also have to pay you, even if you screw the shop up. It's their fault as an employer if you are not well trained....so even if the client rejects the shop, or your report is late, you still get paid!. They can give you a warning after the first one and fire you if it continues, but I liked knowing that I was protected by labor laws when I was an employee shopper.

You would make money working for them, even if it's not that much. For the past 5 years I have lost $$ on ACL shops, which is why I quit working for them.
Removed
Moderator Note:

Previously blocked poster has used numerous identities and IPs. Here's another.

I would not want employee status at all!!!

* I don't worry about losing money on shops because, if there is such a risk, I don't accept the shop.
* I've never had an issue getting a deadline extension - I just ask.
* I don't get shops rejected, so the protection of "being paid anyhow" does not excite me.
* Waiting for reimbursements is not a big deal to me.

However, here is what employees could stand to lose:
* The ability to negotiate higher pay.
* The ability to choose which shops they do.
* The ability to have total flexibility with a schedule.
* The ability to shop for as many MSC's as you want.
* The ability to decide, at the very last minute, whether or not I want to shop on a particular day.

Being an "employee" has positives and negatives. If you are going to work primarily for one company and for a significant amount of hours (~20+ a week), being an employee might be better for you. However, if you want the freedom to run your business your way, being an employee could be very detrimental.

Hard work builds character and homework is good for your soul.
@scorpionshar777 wrote:

$150 for a Apartment shop because of amount of work it can take 4 to 7 hours do do ONE shop after driving there, filling out forms, editing, etc. .

4-7 hours for an apartment shop????

Hard work builds character and homework is good for your soul.
MFJohnston

Sure the time goes by fast when doing those shops. It would be interesting to know the truth on how long it takes people to do them. For example here is a short list.

1. Calling if you can get the target on the phone. There have been times I have to call many times and they only let you call each 30 minutes. Time you don't get paid for

2. Drive over there in traffic maybe 20 to 45 mins

3. Waiting on the target who might be busy or not.

4. Touring the facility/unit/campus that can take 15 -45 minutes depending on the situation.

5. Filling out the long paperwork.

That could easily eat up 7 hours but I'm sure many only take an hour to do the paper work but It takes me longer.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 06/06/2019 02:35PM by scorpionshar777.
@MFJohnston wrote:

I would not want employee status at all!l.

I'm not able to guarantee that every MSC would be structured the way my previous employment-based one was, but a lot of your assumptions are not correct about the way it worked for me:

-I worked 8-10 hours a week, which was just 2 shops per week.
-I was able to submit a schedule of the days I wanted to work at the beginning of the month.
-I was able to modify the schedule as needed and decline locations I did not want to go to.
-I was able to negotiation bonuses for shops that were further away or in bad neighborhoods.
-I was free to work for other MSCs and even combine shops.

I aim to never miss a deadline or make a mistake, but extenuating circumstances happen and after more than 15 years of doing this, I have made a few mistakes and had some other issues crop up that prevented me from completing shops. Standard MSCs have pretty much been unforgiving, to the extend of me once having to pay for a night at a hotel in NYC for simply not getting one employee name. Bestmark once declined a lunch assignment for me because the day after a daylight savings time change, my receipt was off by an hour!

I have also gotten sick, had flights delayed, computers crashed, had stores closed and a bunch of other things that resulted in me losing money as a contractor. This is what I was used to, so I was shocked as an employee when I made an honest mistake, transposed 2 numbers and shopped the wrong location, and the scheduler simply readjusted the schedule to give me that location, then included my time and mileage for the mistake!

In the 10 years I shopped in Nevada, I was never once asked to take an assignment that I did not want. I was paid for training sessions, send checks in advance for cash outlay on casino shops, and treated with respect.

Some people are better working for themselves, which I understand, but my only recourse with ACL was to stop working for them, which I did. That certainly has not been a deterrent in their abusive business practices, so I welcome a reclassification for them. Just like shoppers, not all MSCs are equal.
I agree with both @SteveSoCal and @MFJohnston... there are pros and cons to being an employee shopper vs. an IC shopper. If ACL has to reclassify shoppers as employees in CA (and that's a big if... we're still months if not years away from this in my humble opinion, if anything changes at all), we'll all have to make a decision about how we like to shop and if we want to continue on as employees.

In some ways I think it would be good to have more protection and consistent pay. But in other ways, we'll almost certainly lose some freedom and flexibility, so it will be for everyone to decide what works best for them when considering whether to continue with ACL. But if ACL or any other company has to change the way they classify MSers in CA, then I'd bet that the other MSCs will follow suit pretty quickly behind them.

Shopper in California's Bay Area
@scorpionshar777
I do a lot of apartments - by far more than anything else.
* Yes, some targets are hard to reach. However, each failed attempt is just a one minute phone call. I make these calls when I am writing other reports or doing some other work such that they are simply a "break" from whatever task I am doing. It's not an inconvenience. A really difficult target might take 15 attempts. (Generally, you are asking for them by name after eight or nine.) and the conversation will typically take 5 minutes. So.. 20 minutes calling - on the high end.
* Getting to and from the location. If the apartment is more than a few minutes out of my way, I either make sure the pay is adequate, or I do not do the shop. Period - it's my choice.
* Visits are 15-20 minutes, nearly always. I did three videos yesterday: 18, 12, 16 minutes. 45 minutes is very long.
* Reports for EPMS shops can be done under an hour - even their long written ones. For most MSC's, they are shorter than that.

High time estimates:
Calls: 20 min.
Visit: 45 min
Report: 60 minutes.
Total: 125 minutes + transportation

The average time I spend on an EPMS shops is about 70 minutes, not including driving time. If the shops are taking you 4-7 hours, they are probably not the right choice for you... We all have different strengths and weaknesses as shoppers and, to be successful as an IC, we have to know what they are. I, for instance, do not do particularly well using my phone to write/submit reports.

Hard work builds character and homework is good for your soul.
@SteveSoCal
RE: ACL - I have only done one shop for them, so it is hard for me to fully talk about them. I can say that the one shop did not particularly appeal to me and did not meet my criteria. If I see something appealing, I might try them again, but....

In terms of your experience... You stated that you did 8-10 hours a week, which was two shops. This means you did shops that were much more involved than the typical shop. (A single shop of five hours is a lot more than a stop at a grocery store or an average restaurant.) So, I am going guess that your shops are not "typical." So, how would the rules under which you operated translate to the more typical shopping experiences?

I am not "predicting" that my concerns would come to fruition. Rather, they are things that I could see us losing should than happen. It would all really depend on the precise laws passed and how different MSC's choose to abide by them. I am able, on average, make about $60/hr mystery shopping. This is due to negotiating my fees, planning organized and efficient routes, doing video, etc. I take only the shops that fit my personal criteria. If I were an "employee" of all these MSC's, would I still be able to make such profits?

I don't feel at all like MSC's take advantage of me. I like the freedom I have in this industry and would be frustrated if that were to be affected.

Hard work builds character and homework is good for your soul.
I only did one apartment shop and it was not far away but the example above is by MFJ and not a non video shop which is what the other post is about. I did not have a targeted shop so no phone calls but as I recall the short drive of 2 miles took me 15-20 minutes each way. That is any drive where I live. And yes I could choose to move. I did have to wait for the one salesperson to finish with someone else and the tour took forever as it was a large complex. Just reading the paperwork and filling it all out was very time consuming. 7 hours? No but the time I spent did not nearly stack up with the pittance of pay.
As for employees vs "gig" economy which it seems we are now part of...it does not take long in California to role out new rules once they investigate. But for sure if that is what this is about it will not be for ACL. It will be for every mystery shop company when and if it happens. The companies will have no choice but to follow suit. I have seen it when I had a "regular" job. We have the ability to hire people per diem so part time is not an issue and per diem could be one day per month or even less and the day can be 4 hours. There are no promises. Per diem employees do not need to get benefits. I am sure the msc can find a set up that works for people to choose similar to how it is now based on the ability to have per diem workers. As per diem you can turn down a job and also not be called for a month. It is all legal. Of course they could also make us a "consultant". It sounds high brow but you can be a consultant at minimum wage. Then you have your choice of when to work and what to accept. There are many ways to do this. They can come up with a new configuration for when and how you work and what the fee is.
As for as reimbursement....the msc always have told me when I ask about how they set the reimbursement that is is the average bill for two people . Well no I have never thought that altho it might be the average bill for two people who do not order appetizers, drinks and dessert. I have almost always been able to order within the reimbursement. The issue is most of us do not want to go to a steak/seafood house for dinner and order one turkey sandwich if they have that section and one spaghetti marinara and do all that work on the report for a non typical meal that fits the budget. That may never change.
@MFJohnston wrote:

You stated that you did 8-10 hours a week, which was two shops. This means you did shops that were much more involved than the typical shop.

Actually, it was a grocery chain that hired me as an employee shopper. The typical 8 hours included being in the store, my travel time, and the reporting time. I often volunteered for a 3rd shop on the days I worked because they would pay mileage on top of hourly....and they were OK with me being in each store for 45 minutes and doing my personal shopping while on assignment. They were also OK with me taking taking freelance assignments for the coffee and/or juice bars in the stores while on the job. The number of assignments really didn't matter, since I had the reassurance of being paid for my time, even when I was in traffic. I basically worked 1 day each week for them, though.

I wasn't making anywhere near $60 hour. If you can make $60 including travel, shopping and reporting time, then you are definitely one who would suffer from a reclassification. I averaged $20-25 hourly but it's hard to pin down, since on top of the hourly there was mileage and grocery reimbursements, and was focusing on lining up the juice bars with my grocery assignments.

What I can tell is that it's more money than I ever made on any ACL assignment, and I have done hundreds of them. ACL has no interest in making their instructions clear or reporting easy, since they don't generally pay shoppers at all. As an employee, my employer was interested in making the reporting as painless as possible since they were paying me by the hour to fill out the report!
MFJohnston Reports for EPMS shops can be done under an hour - even their long written ones.

Bob's Reply--Beginning in 2006 and until I requested my deactivation in 2015, I completed 192 assignments of the regular, audio, video and property inspection category for Ellis. My final shop was for a client for whom I had never completed a job, so I did a time check; my report completion was 1 hour and 51 minutes of repetition the likes of which were absolutely intolerable. 31 days later, I was informed I had visited the wrong property and would not be paid. I appealed, lost and immediately fired EPMS.
@sandyf
To clarify: My time estimates for total shop time were for non-video. With EPMS, the video shops tend to have the same report length as non-video. (Every once in a great while, they have a no-report video shop.)

I noted that my shops yesterday were video as I could be very certain as to the length of the visits by simply looking at the recordings. These were actually for a different MSC and I anticipate the reports taking 30-35 minutes.

I do freely admit that my first reports for apartments took longer (two hours or so). However, much of that time was due to my unfamiliarity with the forms and the fact that I had to think harder about what had happened during the visits so that I could answer accurately. Having done more than a few, I am quite familiar with the forms and am much better at making mental notes during my visits so that I do not have to spend nearly the same amount of time trying to remember what happened. I also type very quickly, which helps with narrative speed.

Hard work builds character and homework is good for your soul.
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