The Prelicensed Voice (Part 2 of 2)
March 4, 2019
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Why AB 5 Matters to Prelicensed Therapists

If you’ve been keeping up with legislative updates from CAMFT and other professional organizations for mental health professionals, then you may have noticed a lot of talk about AB 5. For those who aren’t familiar with the case law that preceded AB 5, here’s a quick summary of what’s being discussed in California:

  • It’s now presumed that workers who perform services for employers are employees (and not independent contractors).
  • In order to be classified as an independent contractor, all the criteria of the “ABC” test must be met.
  • AB 5 would “codify” the decision in the case law, clarify its application, and state which professions are exempt from these provisions.

At a glance, this may not seem meaningful to prelicensed therapists. After all, according to the Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS), prelicensed therapists can’t be independent contractors (see Business and Professions Code Section 4980.43.3). In the grand scheme of things, when prelicensed therapists already have so much to worry about, AB 5 may not register as a critical issue to address; however, there are two angles to consider.

Short-Term Concern: Impact on Clinical Supervisors

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that some employers favor hiring prelicensed therapists over licensed therapists due to the pay differential. It’s necessary to have licensed therapists on the payroll so prelicensed therapists can be supervised; however, some organizations prefer to hire these licensed therapists/clinical supervisors as independent contractors. By asking clinical supervisors to come in for just a few hours per week (to cover one or two units of group supervision), employers can save a significant amount of money in the long run.

So what will happen if you currently work for an organization whose clinical supervisors are independent contractors? If AB 5 doesn’t list MFTs as an exempt profession, then your supervisor will be reclassified as an employee. One would hope your employer is prepared to navigate this change, and your supervisor is willing to accept the new terms of employment. If your employer does not provide a smooth transition for your supervisor, or your supervisor is dissatisfied with the new contract presented by your employer, then these changes could have an impact on you and your work environment.

Which leads to the second point for consideration…

Long-Term Concern: Impact on You (and Everyone Else)

I get it. AB 5 isn’t the most exciting cause to get behind at this stage in your career. However, I’m assuming your end goal is to become licensed. At that point, you will have to face the issues your licensed colleagues are currently dealing with, and you may wish you had advocated for the profession as a whole when you had the opportunity to do so.

Fortunately, CAMFT has provided a quick and easy way to get in touch with your elected official in California. The provided template elaborates on why professional organizations (including NASW-CA, CALPCC, and the California Psychological Association) are concerned about losing the ability to classify LMFTs as independent contractors. The following is an excerpt from that template:

The independent contractor model is a win-win for the employer, the contractor, and the patient. To legislate that all providers work as employees would drastically change the dynamic of this health care field, resulting in fewer providers being hired (to cover the employee overhead), leading to less access overall to communities in need, and/or increasing costs being passed onto the patient.

There are times when we all need to expand our view of the profession and look beyond our immediate circumstances. How does this legislative change affect our colleagues, employers, and (potentially) our clients? How could this legislative change (taking away the option to be an independent contractor) eventually affect you as well?

Now’s your chance to say something about it.

About the Author

Robin Andersen is the founder of Prelicensed. She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT 100070) who is passionate about giving back to associate marriage and family therapists, trainees, and students by maintaining this valuable resource. More information about Robin can be found here. The viewpoints expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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