You can’t pay for English whales (the queen owns those), but you should pay summer interns – as employees, not contractors

Whale summer internships paid unpaid employee independent contractorSome things you can’t pay for. All of the whales and sturgeon that live in English waters, for example, belong to the queen. Under an English statute from 1324, “The king shall have wreck of the sea throughout the realm, whales and sturgeons taken in the sea or elsewhere within the realm, except in certain places privileged by the king.”

So if you wanted to buy an English whale this summer, you may be out of luck. U.S. business should be spending their money elsewhere — like on summer interns! Yes, let’s talk about summer interns. Paid or unpaid? Employee or independent contractor? Have I captured your attention? I knew it. Read on.

Paid or unpaid? The rules have been changing to make it easier to have unpaid interns, provided the internships have educational value and are not for the benefit of the business. This post provides some guidelines. The bottom line, though, is that it’s safest to pay your summer interns.

Employees or independent contractors? If you’re going to pay your summer interns, they’re probably your employees. It’s ok to have short-term, part-time employees. Even if your intern is working a sporadic schedule, a few days a week, a few hours a day, and just over the summer while school is out, your best move is to treat the person as your employee — not an independent contractor. That means you should withhold taxes, and the intern should complete an IRS Form W-4. (The high school kids will give you unforgettable blank stares when you ask them to declare their allowances on line 5. Try it, just for fun. Trust me.)

Your interns are learning the business. They aren’t in business for themselves. They probably meet none of the requirements for establishing independent contractor status — not under ABC Tests, not under Right to Control Tests, not under Economic Realities Tests. Not in a boat, not with a goat.

Summer is great for whale watching and internships. But be sure your interns are properly classified and properly paid. And make sure they know what they can and cannot do. They do not, for example, have “wreck of the sea throughout the English realm,” so update your onboarding materials accordingly.

© 2018 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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Restaurant Can Decline to Pay Workers if They Are Church Volunteers, Says Appeals Court

Angley

Serving God by serving mashed potatoes

According to TV evangelist Rev. Ernest Angley, the Cathedral Buffet is “the Lord’s buffet,” and members of his church, Grace Cathedral, are expected to volunteer when Rev. Angley asks. Although the church’s restaurant had paid employees, it was sometimes short-staffed and looked to parishioners to help — as unpaid volunteers. Rev. Angley has been controversial in the past (google “Rev Angley never actually touched his …”), but this controversy is SFW.

The Department of Labor sued the church, claiming that the volunteers were doing the same work as the restaurant’s employees, and therefore they had to be paid like employees. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires at least a minimum wage.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, has sided with Rev. Angley. The Court ruled that if workers do not expect to get paid, they are volunteers and not employees, which means they are not covered by the FLSA.

There is one exception, though. If someone is coerced to work for free, the volunteer rule does not apply. The Court noted that when the restaurant was short-staffed, Rev. Angley would “ask” for volunteers.

But here’s what we mean by “ask”: He would instruct churchgoers that “[e]very time you say no, you are closing the door on God.” He suggested that church members who repeatedly refused to volunteer at the restaurant were at risk of “blaspheming against the Holy Ghost,” which was an unforgivable sin in the church’s doctrine.

Is that coercion?

Yes, maybe, but it’s not the kind of coercion covered under the law. The Court ruled that the coercion exception applies only to economic coercion, not spiritual coercion. To summarize:

  • If working for free is required by your powerful boss, that’s economic coercion. Illegal.
  • But if working for free is required by a higher power, that’s spiritual coercion. Not illegal.

The Court of Appeals stressed religious freedom. If church member volunteers have no expectation of being paid when working for a church-run enterprise, they are volunteers and not employees. The expectation of compensation “is a threshold inquiry that must be satisfied before” applying the FLSA.

The decision reversed a judgment of nearly $400,000 against the church.

Trip advisor reviews of the Cathedral Buffet, as expected, are hilarious, with Duane H of Stow describing the buffet as “akin to nursing home food.” Hooliganmom accused the mashed potatoes of being “fake” and says she preferred her high school cafeteria.

Unfortunately for curiosity seekers (or volunteers) living near Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, the buffet is now permanently closed.

© 2018 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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Court Rules That Shadowing Dad at Work Might Require Payment

Shadow - Trainee or Employee  death-2577486_1280In the 1930s, the popular radio program The Shadow featured an invisible avenger who possessed “the mysterious power to cloud men’s minds, so they could not see him.” (He supposedly picked up this power in East Asia, which must have seemed mysterious in an era before Kung Pao Chicken was widely available.)

Eighty years later, “shadowing” has a different meaning. An unpaid trainee follows around a more experienced employee as a way to learn the business. Few trainees have mastered the power of invisibility [Note: only the best ones have, and they’re hard to find … ba-dum-bum], and often the nature of being a trainee involves getting in the way of the real work.

Scott Axel was a trainee who shadowed his father at an automobile wholesaler in Florida. He had no expectation of pay, and the business said it would not hire him. As a favor to his dad, the business let him learn the business by shadowing his dad.

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For the Greater Good: When Do You Have to Pay Volunteers?

One of my favorite movies is Hot Fuzz, the story of an overzealous London policeman (Simon Pegg), who transfers to a small town where things are not as they seem. Throughout the movie, various characters declare that something is being done “for the greater good.” Watch the movie. I won’t play spoiler. After you watch, go to imdb.com and read more about all the subtleties you may have missed. Trust me on this one.

Anyway, this is the part of the blog post where I segue from a totally unrelated pop culture reference to something related to employment.

Today we’ll talk about volunteers — you know, those who perform work “for the greater good” (nailed it!).

Where is the line between volunteers and employees, and when must volunteers be paid?

The Department of Labor (DOL) is pretty tough when it comes to determining Who Is My Employee?  As explained here, a worker not in business for himself/herself is usually presumed to be an employee under the Economic Realities Test.

The DOL, however, recognizes an exception for work that is truly volunteer work — so long as it’s not wink wink nod nod really employment.

What’s the difference?

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