In Denbighshire, Wales, the Howatson family lives in a small house that sits… wait for it… in the middle of a roundabout.
In the early 1980s, after the family had been in the house for 20 years, local authorities told them their property sat smack in the middle of where a roundabout was to be built. The family refused to sell, and they now have lovely 360-degree views of people driving around their house all day and night.
The Department of Labor is taking is a more direct approach in its effort to update the worker classification test under the Fair Labor Standards Act. But it’s a slow process, and it will be several more months before we see a final rule.
But this post will provide a status update. Long story short, we’ll see a new rule when the DOL gets around to it.
In October 2022, the DOL released its proposed new test for determining who is an employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The proposed rule generated more than 50,000 comments in response. I posted some initial reactions to the proposed rule in this article here.
The proposed rule identifies seven factors to consider when determining whether an independent contractor has been misclassified under the FLSA:
1. Opportunity for profit or loss depending on managerial skill;
2. Investments by the worker and the employer;
3. Degree of permanence of the work relationship;
4. Nature and degree of control;
5. Extent to which the work performed is an integral part of the employer’s business;
6. Skill and initiative; and
7. Additional factors.
Under federal law, the rulemaking process involves three main steps. First, the agency posts a proposed new regulation. That’s what the DOL did in October.
Second, there is a public comment period, in which anyone can submit a comment to the DOL. The most effective comments tend to assist the agency in evaluating its proposed rule, such as explaining likely unintended consequences or identifying concerns with how it is written. Comments can also offer legal arguments as to why the agency’s proposed rule is not consistent with the law it is supposed to be interpreting.
Finally, after reviewing the comments, the agency will publish a final rule. The final rule might differ from the proposed rule, or it could be the same. Or the agency can jettison the proposed rule entirely and do nothing. Here that last option is unlikely. The DOL will almost certainly issue a new rule.
On December 13, I submitted a lengthy comment on behalf of Flex, the trade organization representing app-based rideshare and delivery platforms. The full comment is available here, and I thought it might be helpful to summarize the main points for this audience.
The comment included two parts.
Part One argues that the DOL should not abandon the current rule (the 2021 Rule), which was passed less than two years ago. The 2021 Rule was adopted after a thorough rulemaking process and comment period, and the rule was developed based on a detailed analysis by the DOL of decades of case law. The 2021 Rule focused on two core factors, rather than offering a multitude of factors that have no pre-assigned weight. The 2021 Rule offered more predictability for businesses and contractors, and predictability in the law is — to put it bluntly — good. A regulation should add clarity, and the 2021 Rule added clarity.
Part One also pointed out that the 2021 Rule had done little to damper the DOL’s efforts at combatting misclassification. The DOL has published a long list of successes in obtaining settlements and judgments in the last three months alone.
Abandoning the 2021 Rule would also be arbitrary and capricious, meaning it might not survive a legal challenge, and we urged the DOL not to make a change.
Part Two argues that even if the DOL decides to abandon the 2021 Rule, the proposed new rule needs some work. Part Two focused on seven aspects of the proposed new rule that the DOL should change.
The key thing to remember is that the DOL wants to go back to a multi-factor test. Multi-factor tests have been around for a long time, but the devil here is in the details. If you read the DOL’s description of each factor and how it should be applied, the DOL is putting its fingers on the scale, taking every close call (and some that aren’t close) and resolving them in favor of employee status.
I will list the seven arguments below to provide a general sense of the key points. But, since this is supposed to be a quick read format, I’m not going to wade into the details. You can read the full comment if you like.
From the Table of Contents to Part Two:
1) In Factor #1, the Commentary about “Managerial Skill” Should Be Deleted or Revised Because It Fails to Account for the Realities of 21st Century Work.
2) Factor #2 Should Be Substantially Revised to Remove Provisions That Are Illogical, Incompatible with Economic Realities, and Contrary to FLSA Case Law.
3) Factor #4 Should Remove the Commentary That Legally Required Control May Be Relevant Evidence of Control Because This Commentary Is Contrary to Controlling Case Law, Contrary to this Department’s Own Guidance, and Not Probative of the Economic Realities of a Relationship.
4) In Factor #4, Use of Technology to Supervise Should Not Be Referenced as a Relevant Control Factor.
5) Factor #5 Should Preserve the Current “Integrated Unit of Production” Analysis and Should Not Adopt a Flawed “Integral Part” Analysis That is Contrary to Case Law and Legally Unsupported.
6) Any Final Rule Should Preserve the Helpful Subregulatory Guidance in Fact Sheet #13, Clarifying That Certain Factors Are Not Relevant.
7) Any Final Rule Should Replace the Term “Employer” with “Principal” or a Similarly Neutral Term.
You can read the complete arguments here.
And now onto Step Three of the DOL’s rulemaking process. Last week, the Biden Administration published its overall regulatory agenda for 2023. It included a May 2023 placeholder for a proposed final rule. That’s just a best guess at this point, and with more than 50,000 comments for the DOL to review, the actual release date may be several months later. But the DOL, at least at present, appears prepared to move forward with a new rule to determine independent contractor vs. employee status under the FLSA.
We’ll continue to monitor developments, in a roundabout way.
© 2023 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.