Much has been written about the phrase low-hanging fruit. The metaphor’s origins are fairly obvious, referring to obtaining quick wins through minimal effort.
But how good is the metaphor? For harvesters, starting with the lowest hanging fruit is not the best strategy. Fruit near the top of a tree is generally riper and ready to eat, due to better sun exposure. Fruit can also be heavy, and harvesters who start at the top of the tree can work their way down as their bags grow heavier. Then there’s this insightful warning from one author’s mother, who cautioned that the blackberries near the bottom of the bush are the ones most likely to have been peed on by an animal.
Pee notwithstanding, the Department of Labor and the NLRB have seized on the low-hanging fruit strategy as a way to go after companies that misclassify independent contractors.
Last month the two agencies signed a Memorandum of Understanding, agreeing to share information and better coordinate investigations when they suspect there have been violations of the law.
While the DOL and NLRB apply different tests to determine Who Is My Employee?, it’s likely that a relationship failing one test also fails the other. Violators of one law are the low-hanging fruit.
What does that mean for businesses? It means that if the NLRB believes your company misclassified its independent contractors, they’ll share that information with the DOL, which would be pleased to piggyback on the NLRB’s finding and tag you with wage and hour violations as well. And vice versa.
The information sharing arrangement raises the stakes for alleged violators. Companies found to be in violation of one law are more likely to be found in violation of multiple laws. And that means more fines, more assessments, and more disruption to your business.
For the DOL and NLRB, the information-sharing arrangement means they’ll go after each other’s targets and seek to double up on penalties. For companies whose independent contractors may resemble employees, it means you’re the blackberry that’s about to get peed on.
© 2022 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.