Sour Note – Musicians Are Employees, Not Independent Contractors, NLRB Tells Theater Company 

theater orchestra

From the National Law Review, Chad P. Richter, Howard M. Bloom and Philip B. Rosen discuss a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision that musicians in a theater company were employees and not independent contractors.  They write:

A Regional Director of the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that a group of musicians were statutory employees under the National Labor Relations Act and, therefore, entitled to vote in an NLRB-conducted union representation election. In the Matter of Fiddlehead Theatre Company, Inc. and Boston Musicians Association et al., Case Number 01-RC-179597 (July 26, 2016).  The decision comes on the heels of a holding by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit granting enforcement of an NLRB Order that musicians with the Lancaster Symphony Orchestra were employees, not independent contractors, and entitled to join the union. Lancaster Symphony Orchestra v. NLRB, No. 14-1247 (D.C. Cir. 2016).

Whether individuals performing services for an entity are employees, who are protected by the NLRA, or independent contractors, who are not, is determined by 11 well-established factors in the Restatement (Second) of Agency § 220 (1958), the NLRB held in 2014 and 2015. FedEx Home Delivery, 361 NLRB No. 55 (2014) and Sisters’ Camelot, 363 NLRB No. 13 (Sept. 25, 2015).

The factors are:

  • Extent of control by the employer

  • Whether or not the individual is engaged in a distinct occupation or business

  • Whether the work is usually done under the direction of the employer or by a specialist without supervision

  • Skill required in the occupation

  • Who provides the supplies, tools, and place of work

  • Length of time for which individual is employed

  • Method of payment

  • Whether or not the work is part of the regular business of the employer

  • Whether or not the parties believe they are creating an independent contractor relationship

  • Whether the principal is or is not in the business

  • Whether the evidence tends to show that the individual is, in fact, rendering services as an independent business 

In Lancaster, the NLRB and the Circuit Court relied heavily on the orchestra’s control over the manner of the musicians’ performance, including limiting their conversations during rehearsals and performances. In Fiddlehead, the Regional Director ruled the musicians were employees despite the employer’s having established the existence of several factors tending to show the musicians were independent contractors: (1) they worked on a show-by-show basis, (2) they were highly skilled workers, (3) they supplied their own instruments, and (4) they were paid a flat fee. However, the Regional Director relied on several other factors in finding employee status, including that (1) the employer exercised substantial control over the details of the musicians’ work, (2) the musicians had very limited input into scheduling of performances, (3) the musicians were instructed to follow the company’s dress code, and (4) the musicians did not have the potential for entrepreneurial gain. Regional Director’s decision is appealable to the NLRB in Washington, D. C.

Read the full story at Sour Note – Musicians Are Employees, Not Independent Contractors, NLRB Tells Theater Company | The National Law Review

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