When Are Shareholders Also Employees? (Disney-Themed Version)

When are shareholders considered employees

I have always believed that in the song made famous by Happy, Dopey, Sneezy and friends, they were saying “Off to work we go,” but I just checked a few sites for lyrics and the lyrics all show the dwarves singing, “It’s home from work we go.” Can this be true? Have I been mixed up all these years about which way the dwarves were going to dig dig dig with a shovel or a pick?

Work can be confusing. A non-cartoon-dwarf scenario that can be confusing is trying to determine whether shareholders in a business are also employees of that business. In today’s post, we examine that question by celebrating the 15th anniversary of a 2003 Supreme Court case. (Happy Anniversary, case! 🎂)

Like many tests for determining Who Is My Employee?, this one comes down to control and the familiar Right to Control Test.

In Clackamas Gastroenterology Associates, P. C. v. Wells, an employee of this Oregon-based medical clinic tried to sue for disability discrimination under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). To bring claim under the ADA, though, the plaintiff must show that her employer has 15 or more employees.

The clinic had four owner/shareholders who were also physicians. If they were also employees, then the clinic had 15 employees and Ms. Wells could pursue her ADA lawsuit. If these physicians were just shareholders and not employees, then the clinic had fewer than 15, and Ms. Wells would be SOL.

The dispute made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court ruled that the proper way to determine whether the physician/shareholders counted as employees was to apply a Right to Control Test. But which version?

The standard Right to Control Test tries to distinguish between an employee and an independent contractor. Because the question here is a bit different, the test had to be adapted to fit the situation.

The Court decided that these six factors were most important for deciding whether the physician/shareholders were also employees:

1. Whether the organization can hire or fire the individual or set the rules and regulations of the individual’s work;
2. Whether and, if so, to what extent the organization supervises the individual’s work;
3. Whether the individual reports to someone higher in the organization;
4. Whether and, if so, to what extent the individual is able to influence the organization;
5. Whether the parties intended that the individual be an employee, as expressed in written agreements or contracts; and
6. Whether the individual shares in the profits, losses, and liabilities of the organization.

Like the traditional Right to Control Test, this is a balancing test. Some factors may weigh in one direction, some may tilt the other way. Ultimately, a judge (or jury) needs to weigh the factors and make a determination.

In this case, the Supreme Court did not do the weighing. Instead, it articulated the test and sent the case back to the Oregon district court to weigh the factors.

So for Ms. Wells, the case left the Supreme Court and went back to the federal court in Oregon. And so the real question is: For Ms. Wells after the Supreme Court’s ruling, was it “off to court we go” (headed back to Oregon) or “home from court we go” (leaving D.C.)? I bet she never thought about that.

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

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