From The Legal Intelligencer, Stephen A. Antonelli reviews the Department of Labor’s and the National Labor Relations Board’s standards for determining if a worker is an independent contractor or employee. Stephen writes:
In response to the trend of increasing employee misclassification investigations and private wage-and-hour lawsuits, last summer the DOL issued a 15-page interpretative memorandum with an aim to provide “additional guidance” for determining who is an employee and who is an independent contractor under the FLSA. Although classification as an independent contractor can be advantageous (or even preferable) for workers and businesses alike, improperly classified workers do not receive certain workplace protections such as the minimum wage, overtime compensation, unemployment insurance, and workers’ compensation. Improper classification also frequently results in lower tax revenues for the government and an unfair advantage against those employers that do properly classify their workers.
The FLSA broadly defines the word “employ” as “to suffer or permit to work.” According to the U.S Supreme Court in United States v. Rosenwasser, 323 U.S. 360 (1945), and as acknowledged in the DOL’s interpretive memorandum, the “suffer or permit” standard is the broadest definition that has ever been included in any one act, and it was designed to ensure as broad a scope of statutory coverage as possible.
The economic realities test determines whether an individual is an employee or an independent contractor. It involves a balancing of several factors including: whether the potential joint employer controls the supposed independent contractor and the employment conditions; the permanency of the relationship; the repetitiveness of the work being performed; whether the work is integral to the potential joint employer’s business; whether the work is performed on the potential joint employer’s premises; and whether the work qualifies as routine administrative work. According to the DOL, these factors should not be analyzed “in a vacuum, and no single factor, including control, should be over-emphasized.” The ultimate determination to be made is whether the individual at issue is in business for him or herself or is instead economically dependent on the employer. According to the DOL, many companies misapply this “broader concept” of the economic realities test and as a result, “most workers are employees under the [FLSA].”
NLRB’s Expanded Joint Employer Test
In August 2015, the NLRB applied an expanded joint employer test in Browning Ferris Industries, et al., 362 NLRB No. 186 (2015), a case in which it held that, for the purpose of a union representation election, Browning Ferris Industries was a joint employer with Leadpoint, a staffing agency. The decision was based upon the concept that it is the “existence, extent and object” of the putative joint employer’s control that matters, not whether that control is actually exercised. Though the Browning Ferris decision is limited to union representation elections, regulatory agencies and the plaintiffs’ bar may attempt to apply a similarly expansive joint employer concept for purposes beyond collective bargaining, such as wage-and-hour matters. Moreover, many temporary employee and contractor arrangements have been structured in reliance of the NLRB’s pre-Browning Ferris emphasis on the actual exercise of control as the determinative factor rather than the potential for such control. Those arrangements may now be susceptible to attack under the more expansive Browning Ferris test.
Read the full story at How Many Employees Do You Have (for Purposes of the FLSA) | The Legal Intelligencer