Pain, Humiliation & Self-Pity: How Does the Definition of “Employ” Relate to Independent Contractor Misclassification?

Suffer or Permit to Work FLSA Definition of Employ

According to the New World Encyclopedia, examples of “suffering” include pain, illness, disability, hunger, poverty, grief, hatred, frustration, heartbreak, guilt, humiliation, anxiety, loneliness, self-pity, and death.

According to federal wage and hour law, “suffer” means employment.

Ouch. Happy Monday.

One of the many problems with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) — the federal law that sets minimum wage and overtime standards — is that it’s archaic, outdated, old. It was passed in 1938.  Before Hitler invaded Poland.  Before the first Captain America comic book. Even before the invention of the Slinky.

In 1938, Mick Jagger wasn’t even born yet. (But Betty White was 16.)

The language used in the FLSA reflects a different era. In the definitions section of the Act, “employ” includes “to suffer or permit to work.” What exactly does that mean? At the time it was written, what did Congress intend for it to mean? And what does it mean now, in the modern economy, especially when trying to determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor?

According to the FLSA regulations, if “the employer knows or has reason to believe that [the individual] is continuing to work,” then the time is working time. It’s employment. Even work that is “not requested” is work time if the employer permitted the work to be done.

When asking the question, Who Is My Employee?, this broad definition presents a challenge. As the Supreme Court has recognized, this definition is broader than the ordinary “common law” definition of employment, which looks at the extent of control the employer exercises (or has the right to exercise) over the worker. That’s the Right to Control Test, which is discussed in more detail here.

Because the definition of “employ” is different under the FLSA than under most other employment laws, the test for determining Who Is My Employee? is different too.

The FLSA uses an Economic Realities Test to determine whether a worker is an employee (as compared to an independent contractor).

The Economic Realities Test is expressed slightly differently by different federal courts but, in general, the test asks whether the worker is economically reliant on the potential employer to earn a living. If economically reliant, the worker is likely an employee. If the worker has other sources of income or is business for himself/herself, the worker is more likely an independent contractor, not an employee.

The Economic Realities Test is described in more detail here.

So that’s how the federal courts interpret the “suffer or permit to work” language in the FLSA. But to keep things interesting, California’s wage and hour laws use the same “suffer or permit” language in its state law definition of “employ,” but California interprets that phrase differently and imposes a different test. Same standard, different test.

As we will discuss in Thursday’s post, California’s alternative interpretation of that same phrase can lead to very different results when evaluating whether someone is an employee or independent contractor.

It’s California’s definition — more than the federal definition — that is more likely to cause pain, illness, disability, hunger, poverty, grief, hatred, frustration, heartbreak, guilt, humiliation, anxiety, loneliness, or self-pity. To the Golden State’s credit, though, probably not death. Good job, California.

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

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Despite New DOL, Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment Remain Risky

What effect of withdrawal of DOL memos

In June 2017, the DOL withdrew its Obama-era 2015 and 2016 informal guidance on joint employment and independent contractors. The memos covered federal wage and hour law (FLSA). Eight months later, what effect has that decision made?

Essentially none.

Remember, the 2015 and 2016 memos did not change the law on independent contractor misclassification or joint employment. Rather, the memos were an attempt by the Wage & Hour Administrator, David Weil, to summarize existing law – but with a pro-employee leaning. The memos selectively interpreted court decisions that supported Weil’s view of the world, i.e., that most workers are employees. When Weil left, the DOL said goodbye to his interpretations as well.

But … Continue reading

Map Shows Joint Employment Tests Are a Mess!

IMG_8284The tests for determining whether a business is a joint employer vary, depending on which law applies. That means there are different tests under federal labor law, wage and hour law, and employee benefits law, to name a few. There are also different tests under different states’ laws.

Further complicating the analysis, there are even different tests when applying the same law — depending on where you live.

Yes, you read that right. Even though the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a federal wage and hour law that applies across the country, federal courts in different states use different methods for determining whether a business is a joint employer under that single law.

Continue reading

Boom? Is the California Supreme Court About to Blow Up the Test for Independent Contractor Relationships?

california-independent-contractor-dynamex-boomThe California Supreme Court may be about to rewrite the test for Who Is My Employee? under California wage and hour law.  [Note 4/30/18: It just happened. Read more here.]

Independent contractor relationships that have stood the test of time may be in jeopardy.  And I don’t mean the (mildly?) entertaining Alex Trebek kind of Jeopardy. We’re talking real economic upheaval and uncertainty — worse than Schwarzenegger taking over Celebrity Apprentice.

Here’s the issue: Continue reading

Can You Pay a Contractor Overtime? Should You?

independent-contractor-questionsLet’s talk about good old-fashioned 1099 Independent Contractors — you know, those individuals who are happy to be called contractors until they’re released and then decide they should have been treated as employees.

When retaining a contractor, one of the goals, of course, is to ensure that the contractor is properly classified and is not really (factually) an employee. A secondary goal, however, is to limit liability if the contractor is misclassified.

Today’s question sits at the intersection of these two goals. Continue reading

What is the Economic Realities Test?

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The Economic Realities Test seeks to determine whether, as a matter of economic reality, the worker is reliant on the hiring party, or is in business for him/herself.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) uses an Economic Realities Test to determine whether a worker is a contractor or an employee.  If the worker is an employee under this test, then the federal minimum wage and overtime rules apply, subject to any exemptions.  This test is also used to determine who is an employee under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Continue reading