How Does the Families First Act Apply to Independent Contractors?

Families First Act Independent Contractors

Hungry for more COVID-19 info? I can help with that, but if your hunger pangs are for something more exotic — say, deep-fried bull testicles — I’m sorry to say you’re out of luck. Deerfield (Mich.) American Legion Post 392 has cancelled its 19th annual Testicle Festival, leaving festival supplier Dennis Gerth with 330 pounds of bull testicles in his freezer. That’s my 2020 submission if anyone is giving out awards for Sentences I Never Thought I’d Write.

Yes, the coronavirus is affecting society in ways we never imagined. Last week, Congress offered some relief to workers affected by the virus. While the new law doesn’t help Gerth or his ball-filled freezer, it does provide paid leave for employees of most small businesses.

But what about independent contractors?

The Families First Coronavirus Relief Act provides up to 12 weeks of partially paid time off for employees unable to work (or telework) for childcare reasons and up to 80 hours of paid sick time to employees unable to work (or telework) for six specified reasons.

Trying to apply the Act raises a lot of questions. Many are addressed here, in a conversational tone that acknowledges this is awfully confusing. But this post will focus on how the Act applies to independent contractors.

Do Independent Contractors Get the Benefits of the Act?

No. The Act provides paid sick leave and expanded Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave only to employees, and only if their employer has fewer than 500 employees.

How Does the Act Differentiate Between an Employee and an Independent Contractor?

Ah yes, the age old question of Who Is My Employee? The Act uses the definitions of “employee” in the FMLA and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FMLA uses the FLSA definition, so let’s focus on that.

The test for whether an independent contractor is really an employee under the FLSA is determined by using an economic realities test. This is a different test than the ones used for determining whether someone is an employee under tax, unemployment, workers compensation, and many other federal and state laws.

The economic realities test generally looks at these factors:

  1. The extent to which the services rendered are an integral part of the principal’s business.
  2. The permanency of the relationship.
  3. The amount of the alleged contractor’s investment in facilities and equipment.
  4. The nature and degree of control by the principal.
  5. The alleged contractor’s opportunities for profit and loss.
  6. The amount of initiative, judgment, or foresight in open market competition with others required for the success of the claimed independent contractor.
  7. The degree of independent business organization and operation.

This list is from DOL Fact Sheet #13, but it’s worth noting that different courts define the factors differently. Know your jurisdiction. Another commonly used listing of the factors can be found here.

The more independent the worker is from the business retaining his/her services, the more likely the worker is properly classified as an independent contractor.

How Could this Issue Arise?

With the economy in a cornoravirus-induced tailspin, lots of employees are losing their jobs, and lots of independent contractors are losing their engagements. When the income stream stops flowing, people look for a way to reopen the faucet.

Independent contractors might file unemployment claims. We’ve discuss the dangers of that here. They might also be tempted to file lawsuits claiming they’ve been misclassified. A successful claim could mean they’re entitled not only to the benefits of the Families First Act, but also potentially to unpaid overtime and other benefits that employees can receive.

Times are tough, and livelihoods are at stake. As contractors lose more work, we’re likely to see an increase in independent contractor misclassification claims. And that’s no bull.

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© 2020 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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Gator in Your Basement? Nope, That’s Just the NLRB Sharpening Its Joint Employer Test

NBLRB joint employer new regulation 2020

“Be careful as you go down the stairs, officer. An alligator lives in my basement.”

Police in Madison Township, Ohio, last week found a 5-foot gator penned in the basement of a family home. The family said that “Alli” was a pet they’ve raised for 25 years, since purchasing him as an adorable little tot at a reptile shop. (My, how they grow.)

The family accepted responsibility and avoided legal liability because they allowed to police to remove the animal.

A larger battle over responsibility and legal liability was also decided last week, but this battle was over the meaning of “joint employment” under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

Here’s a quick Q&A to get you up to speed on the new regulation.

What happened?

On February 26, 2020, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) published a new regulation that changes the rules for determining whether a business is a joint employer under the NLRA.

What do you mean by joint employer?

When one business hires another business to provide services, the business providing the services is the primary employer. We see this often in staffing agency arrangements. The staffing agency is the primary employer. The primary employer is responsible for treating its workers as W-2 employees and doing all the things an employer is supposed to do.

If the business receiving the services exercises sufficient control over the workers, it can be deemed a “joint employer” of those workers. The workers would have two employers simultaneously.

Why should I care if I am a joint employer under the NLRA?

Being a joint employer creates rights and obligations under the NLRA on issues such as collective bargaining, strike activity, and unfair labor practice liability:

  • If the employees are represented by a union, the joint employer must participate in collective bargaining over their terms and conditions of employment.
  • Picketing directed at a joint employer that would otherwise be secondary and unlawful is primary and lawful.
  • Each business comprising the joint employer may be found jointly and severally liable for the other’s unfair labor practices.

Does the new rule make it harder or easier to be deemed a joint employer?

Much harder. The new rule significantly narrows the circumstances when a business can be deemed a joint employer.

What’s the new test?

Under the new regulation, a business can only be a joint employer of another employer’s employees only if it exercises “substantial direct and immediate control” over the “essential terms and conditions” of the workers’ employment.

What are essential terms and conditions?

Wages, benefits, hours of work, hiring, discharge, discipline, supervision, and direction.

Can you give me an example of how that works?

No.

Please?

Ok. I was just messing with you.

Let’s look at wages. You retain a staffing agency. You negotiate a cost-plus arrangement. You negotiate the rate you’ll pay the staffing agency per worker per hour, but the staffing agency determines the rate of pay each worker will receive. That’s not substantial and direct control because the staffing agency sets the wages of the worker.

Let’s consider discharge. You want to remove a staffing agency worker from the project. You instruct the agency to remove the worker. That’s not substantial control over whether the worker is discharged from employment. It’s up to the agency what to do with the worker next — reassign the worker, discharge the worker, tar and feather, etc.

How does this affect background checks and other terms in my contract with the primary employer?

Commonplace and routine clauses, like requiring the agency to perform background checks, are not evidence of joint employment.

In a dispute over whether there’s joint employment, who has the burden of proof?

The party asserting that an entity is a joint employer has the burden of proof.

Is the NLRB’s new joint employer regulation the same as the DOL’s new joint employer regulation?

Of course not. That would make this way too easy, and you wouldn’t need your lawyers as much.

In January 2020, the Department of Labor published a new regulation that sets up a new test for determining whether an entity is a joint employer under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). There are similarities in the tests. Both tests require the actual exercise of control for there to be joint employment. Previously, the mere right to exercise control was enough. But the tests are different.

You can read more about the DOL test here.

So now there are two tests for joint employment — one under the FLSA and one under the NLRA?

Ah, so naive. Who’s coming up with these questions, anyway?

Nope, there are lots of tests for determining who is a joint employer; and the tests differ based on which law we’re looking at — and based on who’s looking at it.

The DOL announced its new regulation for determining joint employer status under the FLSA, but unless you’re in a DOL audit, that doesn’t mean much. No court has adopted the new regulation yet, and we don’t know whether courts will defer to the regulation or disregard it. There will be litigation over whether the DOL has the right to redefine “joint employer” and limit the scope of a statute (the FLSA) passed by Congress.

The states have their own tests for determining joint employer status under state employment laws. Some states might defer to the regulations, but many states won’t.

But the NLRB regulation is here to stay, right?

Maybe, maybe not. In late 2018, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the NLRB has no right to redefine “joint employment,” since the question of whether someone is an employee under the NLRA is governed by the common law test of agency — essentially, a right to control test.

But the NLRB chose to disregard that decision and issued its new regulation anyway.

But how can the NLRB enforce a new regulation defining “joint employer” when a federal court has said it can’t do that?

Because the NLRB will just do it anyway. There are 12 federal circuit courts of appeal, and they often disagree. The NLRB has a longstanding practice of ignoring rulings by the federal courts of appeal, except as to the specific case and the specific parties before that specific court. The NLRB takes the position that it must follow rulings by the Supreme Court, not the federal circuit courts of appeal.

So what’s the real status of the new NLRB regulation?

The NLRB will apply this new regulation in all of its proceedings. The new regulation takes effect April 26, 2020, which is 60 days after its publication in the Federal Register.

If NLRB rulings are appealed to a court, it remains to be seen whether some courts will apply the new regulation. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals probably will not.

Is the new regulation permanent?

It’s intended to be. There are at least three ways it could be undone.

  • Future NLRB members with a more pro-worker orientation could enact a new regulation that changes the definition.
  • Congress could pass a statute that redefines joint employer status. The statute would override the regulation.
  • The Supreme Court could rule that the NLRB has no authority to create a joint employer test.

Until one of those three things happens, the new test will stick around for a while, like a pet alligator. The Board will apply the new test to NLRA issues.

What happened to the alligator?

It has been relocated to an animal sanctuary in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Despite its new residence, the gator was deemed ineligible to vote in last Saturday’s primaries.

© 2020 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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Lost Chicken, Very Friendly: 2020 IRS Tips on Independent Contractor Status Are Now Available

Years ago, I signed up for the Next Door app, thinking it might be helpful to hear about things going on in my neighborhood. Most of the posts I see are useless — Can anyone recommend a good restaurant? Is it gonna snow tonight? Does Solon have any good proctologists?

I was ready to unsubscribe but just hadn’t gotten around to it. But then, last week, I got the post that made it all worthwhile:

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I should have clicked “Thank,” because I really do want to thank D. from South Central Solon for that post. The best part, of course, is the armchair psychoanalysis of Lost Chicken’s personality: “Very friendly.” (Lost Chicken also scores high for empathy and teamwork.)

Also known for being “Very friendly” is the IRS. New for 2020 is the Employer’s Supplemental Tax Guide, also known by its catchier, more taxlike moniker, Publication 15-A. Please don’t take my copy. You can get your own here.

Publication 15-A includes a section on independent contractor misclassification. It reminds employers that the IRS uses a Right to Control Test, which evaluates factors related to behavioral control, financial control, and the type of relationship of the parties. The specific factors are listed.

To improve readership, the IRS offers several helpful hypotheticals to illustrate the Independent Contractor vs. Employee conundrum, using memorable characters such as Vera Elm, an electrician; and Helen Bach, an auto mechanic. (But I see Helen Bach as more of a resurrected doomsday cult leader. I’m going to assume that the person who wrote this hypothetical pulled one over on the supervisor who approved it. Well played, IRS writer. Well played.)

Publication 15-A provides other helpful tips for employers at tax time. Get yours now, while supplies last. I’m going to offer a few extra copies on the Next Door app.

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© 2020 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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Bring Forth the Tiger-Dogs! Here’s a Quick Status Check on the Challenges to California’s New Independent Contractor Law

Tiger independent contractor dynamex california

Not an actual tiger. Or a dog.

When outside forces pose a threat to people’s livelihood, people will go to great lengths to fight back.

For example, when monkeys began ravaging the crops of a farmer in Karnataka, India, the imaginitive farmer painted his dog to look like a tiger, to scare away the pesky invaders. [Photo here.]

Business owners in California are taking more conventional measures to fight back againt the tyranny of Assembly Bill 5, the new California law that seeks to reclassify many of the state’s independent contractors as employee. Here’s a quick summary of the resistance:

  • Owner-operator truckers claim the new California law cannot be applied to them because of a federal law (FAAAA) that prohibits states from enacting their own laws that affect the “price, route, or service of any motor carrier with respect to the transportation of property.” They won a preliminary injunction last month, temporarily preventing the law from applying to them.
  • Freelance writers and photographers are challenging the law too. The law has an exception for freelancers, but the exemption goes away if freelancers submit 35 or more pieces to a single publication. In other words, they’re independent contractors for submissions #1 through #34, but they instantly become employees with submission #35. They argue that the exemption is arbitrary and violates their First Amendment and equal protection Rights.
  • Rideshare and food delivery apps filed their own lawsuit, alleging that the exemptions are arbitrary and violate their equal protection and due process rights.
  • Five gig economy app companies have contributed $110 million to a ballot measure that will be voted upon in the November 2020 election if the measure collects 625,000 signatures. The law would exempt app-based gig economy drivers from the new test if the companies provide workers with specific levels of pay, benefits, and rights, which are defined in the proposal.
  • Republican lawmakers have proposed a constitutional amendment (A.C.A. 19) called the “Right to Earn a Living Act,” which would overturn Assembly Bill 5 and enshrine in California law “the right to pursue a chosen business or profession free from arbitrary or excessive government interference.” The amendment would reinstate California’s S.G. Borello balancing test for determining whether a worker is an independent contractor or an employee.

Meanwhile, the California Supreme Court is considering whether the 2018 Dynamex decision, which first imposed the ABC Test for wage and hour claims, applies retroactively. If it does, then businesses can be liable for failing to comply with a test that did not yet exist. Really.

That’s a lot of action, and we’ll continue to watch for new developments. Meanwhile, California businesses that use independent contractors should tread carefully, follow the status of legal challenges, and paint their dogs to look like tigers — just in case that turns out to be effective.

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© 2020 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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When The Rules Do Not Apply: Freelancers’ Lawsuit Challenges California’s New ABC Test

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I was headed to an appointment last week when I came upon this sign. Sometimes the people who make the rules just assume the rules don’t apply to them. Or sometimes people don’t even think about the rules and whether they make sense.

I was tempted to take the sign off the piano, in the interests of following the directive on the sign. But I just took a picture instead.

This post is about when the rules should apply.

Since California’s new ABC Test law (Assembly Bill 5) went into effect January 1st, the legal challenges have been rolling in. (See this post, for example.) The latest groups to challenge the new law are freelance writers and photographers.

Wanna know something absurd? Of course you. We all do. That’s why we read the internet on our phones during meetings. Under the new law, freelancers are exempt from the ABC Test — and can likely remain independent contractors — if they make 35 or fewer submissions to a publication in a year. But with the 36th submission, the ABC Test suddenly applies, meaning that same freelancer would more likely become an employee, retroactive to the first submission.

What is so special about the 36th submission that would convert a freelancer from an independent contractor to an employee? All together now: “Nothing!” This law is ridiculous. A newly filed lawsuit asks a court to invalidate that limit on the basis that it is arbitrary, which it absolutely is. The lawsuit alleges that the arbitrariness violates the freelancers’ Equal Protection and First Amendment Rights.

Freelancers don’t want to be employees for two reasons.

First, works created by contractors are owned by the contractors, who can license the works and earn a fee. That’s how they make money — and is the reason why freelance journalists are all so rich. (That’s for my daughter, who’s in journalism school and doesn’t eat ramen noodles. Yet.) In contrast, under the U.S. Copyright Act, works created by an employee are owned by the employer. That means the freelancer who created the work loses the rights to it. So, if we apply the new rule, that would mean Submission #36, which likely converts the freelancer to a retroactive employee, also converts ownership of Submissions #1-35 to the employer. No way that’s fair.

Second, for every action there’s a reaction. Publishers are not stupid. They don’t want freelancers to become their employees either. So what will they do once a freelancer hits the 35-submission limit? They won’t accept any more submissions. That hurts the publication and the freelancer. Or maybe they will want some freelancers to become their employees so they can commandeer ownership of Submissions #1-35. Either way, this is absurd.

If you’d like to read more, here’s a copy of the complaint. The lawsuit is pending in federal court in the Central District of California.

And please don’t place anything on top of the piano.

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© 2020 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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Voters Would Reject This Flight Option, But They Could Change Independent Contractor Law in California This November

Expensive flight

A few years back, I found myself headed to the Houston airport earlier than expected after a business trip. I decided to check my phone to see whether I could get on an earlier flight back home to Cleveland.

Turns out I could — for $52,270. For coach. There was also a first class seat available. For $69,570.

I declined and decided to wait the three hours for my originally scheduled departure. But for good measure, I took this screenshot because, hey, why not.

Taking the earlier flight would not have been a good use of my money. The real subject of this post is about five app-based companies who are making much better use of their money.

With app-based companies under constant attack through independent contractor misclassification claims, and with California’s new Assembly Bill 5 making it even harder to classify people as independent contractors, the major providers are fighting back.

They’ve pledged $110 million to support a ballot initiative in California that would redraw the lines in the Employee vs. Independent Contractor debate — at least for rideshare and delivery drivers.

Under current federal and state laws, a worker is either an independent contractor or an employee. It’s binary. Employees get lots of protections. Contractors get almost none. There’s no third category that would allow rideshare and delivery drivers to operate independently while receiving a minimum level of legal protection.

This proposed initiative would change that. The law would create new rules for app-based transportation providers and drivers in California.

If the initiative passes, the new ABC Test would not apply to workers in the app-based rideshare and delivery business. Instead, those workers could stay classified as independent contractors, but the app-based companies must ensure that the drivers receive a predetermined level of compensation and benefits, including:

  • Earnings Minimum. The measure would require app-based companies to pay at least 120 percent of the minimum wage for each hour a driver spends driving—but not time spent waiting for requests.
  • Health Insurance Stipend. The measure would require rideshare and delivery companies to provide a health insurance stipend of about $400 per month to drivers who regularly work more than 25 hours per week (not including waiting time). Drivers who average 15 driving hours per week but less than 25 driving hours would receive half as much.
  • Medical Expenses and Disability Insurance. The measure would require that companies buy insurance to cover driver medical expenses and provide disability pay when a driver is injured while driving.
  • Rest Policy. The measure would prohibit drivers from working more than 12 hours in a 24 hour period for a single rideshare or delivery company.
  • Other. The measure would require that rideshare and delivery companies have sexual harassment prevention policies and conduct criminal background checks and safety training for all drivers. It also would prohibit discrimination in hiring and firing.

The measure would also prevent cities and counties from passing further restrictions on driver classification.

The initiative needs 625,000 signatures to appear on the November 2020 ballot in California. I expect they’ll get the signatures, and then the media campaign will kick into high gear. Expect TV and radio ads, billboards, and a heavy social media push to garner support.

If the ballot measure passes, that will have been money well spent — a much wiser use of resources than for some dodo to pay $52,270 to take an earlier flight home from Houston. The proposed law would create a fairer and more predictable set of rules for drivers and companies, and it should substantially reduce the rampant misclassification lawsuits in the rideshare and delivery driver area.

I’ll be watching for similar proposed legislation in other states. And I’ll be watching airfares too, before I switch any future flights.

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© 2020 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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What Is Joint Employment? New DOL Rules Take Effect in 60 Days

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This week’s post is Family Feud Style. Name Three Things That Sound Like They Would Be “Joint Employment” But Are Not:

  1. Long-haired, easy-going product tester at the local wacky tobacky dispensary
  2. Note taker at an orthopedist’s office
  3. The guy on radio ads for non-approved supplements claiming to relieve joint pain who says, really really fast, “These statements not approved or validated by the FDA.”

Each of those jobs has something to do with joints, but that’s not what the Department of Labor (DOL) means when it addresses “joint employment.”

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), more than one person can be an employee’s employer, and when there’s joint employment, both employers are fully liable for any minimum wage or overtime owed to the employee. So, when is a person a joint employer?

On Sunday, the DOL issued new rules for determining when someone is a joint employer under the FLSA. The new rules take effect in 60 days. Here’s what you need to know.

Four-Part Balancing Test

When an employee’s work is for the benefit of both the W-2 employer (such as a staffing agency) and another business, the determination of whether the second business is a “joint employer” is made by evaluating whether the second business:

  1. Hires or fires the employee;
  2. Supervises and controls the employee’s work schedule or conditions of employment to a substantial degree;
  3. Determines the employee’s rate and method of payment; and
  4. Maintains the employee’s employment records.

It’s a balancing test, and no single factor is dispositive.

Actual Control Is Required; Reserved Control Is Not Enough

The new regulations focus on actual control, not merely the right to exert control. This is different from the common law test.

Under the new regulations, the potential joint employer must actually exercise control. Merely reserving control can be relevant, but only if the business actually exercises control in at least one of the four ways. Standard contract language reserving a right to act is not sufficient to demonstrate joint employment.

Different Test for Independent Contractor vs. Employee

The test for joint employment will now be different from the test for Independent Contractor vs. Employee. To determine whether someone is an employee or an independent contractor under the FLSA, the key question is whether the worker is economically dependent on the potential employer. But according to the new regulations, once the worker is someone’s employee, economic dependence is not relevant to determining whether there is a second “joint” employer.

Ordinary Sound Business Practices Are Not Evidence of Joint Employment

The regulations also provide assurance to businesses that wish to impose rules to preserve brand standards, ensure compliance with the law, or instill sound business practices. Those types of actions, according to the DOL, are not evidence of joint employment.

For example, the following actions by a potential joint employer do not make a finding of joint employment more likely:

  • Operating as a franchisor or entering into a brand and supply agreement, or using a similar business model;
  • Requiring the primary employer to comply with specific legal obligations or to meet certain standards to protect the health or safety of its employees or the public;
  • Monitoring and enforcing contractual agreements with the primary employer, such as mandating that primary employers comply with their obligations under the FLSA or other similar laws;
  • Instituting sexual harassment policies;
  • Requiring background checks;
  • Requiring primary employers to establish workplace safety practices and protocols or to provide workers training in matters such as health, safety, or legal compliance;
  • Requiring the inclusion of certain standards, policies, or procedures in an employee handbook;
  • Requiring quality control standards to ensure the consistent quality of the work product, brand, or business reputation, or the monitoring and enforcement of such requirements, including specifying the size or scope of the work project, requiring the employer to meet quantity and quality standards, and imposing deadlines;  
  • Imposing morality clauses;
  • Requiring the use of standardized products, services, or advertising to maintain brand standards;
  • Providing the employer a sample employee handbook or other forms; 
  • Allowing the employer to operate a business on its premises (including “store within a store” arrangements); 
  • Offering an association health plan or association retirement plan to the primary employer or participating in such a plan with the primary employer; or 
  • Jointly participating in an apprenticeship program with the primary employer.

FLSA Only

The new regulations apply to the FLSA only. Other agencies may impose different standards. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is expected to issue its own regulations shortly to address when there is joint employment under federal labor law; and the Equal Employment Opportunity Agency (EEOC) is expected to consider issuing its own new standards for determining whether joint employment exists under federal anti-discrimination laws.

Standards issued by the NLRB or the EEOC maybe similar or may be materially different.

Reliance On The New Rules Provides a Defense

These new rules will apply to DOL investigations of FLSA compliance matters. It remains to be seen whether the federal courts will apply these rules too, but—importantly, the rules provide for Portal-to-Portal Act reliance.

That means employers are entitled to rely on these regulations as a defense to any joint employment claim. The regulations provide several examples of scenarios in which joint employment does and does not exist. Employers should review those scenarios and model their relationships accordingly.

More Information

Additional resources from the DOL can be found here:

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© 2020 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

Need training on avoiding independent contractor misclassification claims? Hey, I do that!  

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