This gem recently popped up on my twitter feed. Causes of death in London, 1632. Seems to me that cancer would be bad enough, but 10 deaths were attributable to the deadly combination of “cancer and wolf.” Sounds to me like 17th century cancer wards needed a moat.
Other notable causes of death include “Consumption” (1797) and its equally deadly opposite, “Dead in the street and starved” (6). “King’s evil” fell 38 unappreciated subjects of the Crown, and 98 died from “Rising of the lights,” which is a fate perhaps narrowly avoided by Clark in Christmas Vacation.
There were lots of things in 1630s London that could bring a person down, but happily “joint employment” is not among the recorded causes of death. Which raises this question as we head into 2023:
Can individuals be liable as joint employers?
The answer, of course, is sometimes.
The Supreme Court of Virginia recently ruled that individuals could not be joint employers under that state’s law on unpaid wages. The decision, was based on a strict reading of a state statute, which permitted only “entities” to be joint employers. The Virginia court explained that this definition was narrower than the understood meaning of joint employer under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
And, indeed, the FLSA does recognize that individuals may be joint employers. This nugget from the First Circuit Court of Appeals answers that question with little room for doubt: “The overwhelming weight of authority is that a corporate officer with operational control of a corporation’s covered enterprise is an employer along with the corporation, jointly and severally liable under the FLSA for unpaid wages.” Donovan v. Agnew, 712 F.2d 1509, 1511 (1st Cir.1983).
The difference is definitional. The FLSA looks to whether one or more “persons” is the employer. Persons can be individuals or entities. The Virginia statute considered only “entities.”
Individual corporate officers can, therefore, face liability as joint employers, particularly in smaller organizations where corporate formalities might not be followed as closely as they should be. For example, in the Agnew case, the court determined that “corporate officers with a significant ownership interest who had operational control of significant aspects of the corporation’s day to day functions, including compensation of employees, and who personally made decisions to continue operations despite financial adversity during the period of non-payment” were employers under the FLSA.
The bottom line here is that, yes, individuals can — at least under some circumstances — be joint employers under the FLSA. But not necessarily under every state’s law.
So that’s one more thing that individuals need to be wary of, in addition to the king’s evil and the dreaded combination of “cancer and wolf.”
© 2022 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.