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Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) — the federal law that sets minimum wage and overtime standards — is that it’s archaic, outdated, old.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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What is the Test for Joint Employment? It Depends.

Joint employment together

There are lots of ways to be together. Some are good, some less good.

Let’s compare:

  • By the end of the movie Grease, the graduates of Rydell High have decided that they “go together like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong.” That, I think, is supposed to mean good.
  • In The Fox and Hound 2, a direct-to-video DisneyToon generally rated as “not terrible,” our four-legged heroes sing that they “go together like wet dog and smelly peanut butter jelly fleas on my belly.” That sounds less good.

In employment law, being together can be good or bad, depending on your perspective.

When a company retains someone else’s employees to perform work, it sometimes becomes necessary to decide whether the first company is a “joint employer” of the second company’s employees. Being a joint employer is not illegal, but it means that if the primary employer violates employment laws, a “joint employer” is liable too — even if it wasn’t primarily responisble for the unlawful act.

The test for joint employment varies depending on which law was violated and depending on the state you’re in. (Here’s a map that illustrates the madness.) For example…

In this post we discussed how you determine if someone is a joint employer under federal wage and hour law (the Fair Labor Standards Act) (FLSA).

In these posts, we discussed how you currently determine whether someone is a joint employer under federal labor law (the National Labor Relations Act) (NLRA). In this post, we discuss how and when that test is likely to change.

In today’s post, we’ll examine how you determine whether someone is a joint employer under federal employment discrimination and breach of contract law. For these laws, the test for joint employment looks to the common law of agency.

A recent decision by the federal Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit reminds us that different tests apply to different laws. Applying the joint employment test for FLSA claims, the trial court had ruled that a citrus grower was the joint employer of migrant workers after the primary employer who hired them did not properly pay them.  (The farm-labor contractor who hired them allegedly demanded kickbacks from the migrant workers’ wages under threat of deportation. Today’s Tip: Don’t do that.)

The migrant workers had another claim too. They alleged breach of contract under federal law (the contract was part of the federal visa process), and it tried to sue both the farm-labor contractor who was demanding the kickbacks and the citrus grower at whose fields they picked delicious fruit.

For the breach of contract claim, the Court of Appeals ruled that the proper way to determine whether someone is a joint employer is to use a Right to Control Test.

There are different versions of Right to Control Tests, but they all try to determine whether a hiring party retains the right to control how the work is performed. If the answer is “yes they do,” then the hiring party is a joint employer under that law. If the answer is “no they don’t, they care about the achieving the result but not how the work is performed,” then the hiring party is not a joint employer.

This Court of Appeals decided that there are 7 factors that should be used to determine whether someone is a joint employer under federal breach of contract law. (The same test would generally apply to federal employment discrimination claims.) State laws may differ. Here are the 7 factors that this court used to determine whether someone is a joint employer under federal breach of contract law:

1. Does the alleged joint employer have the right to control how the work is performed?
2. Does the alleged joint employer provides the tools?
3. Is the work being performed at the worksite of the alleged joint employer?
4. Does the alleged joint employer provide employee benefits?
5. Does the alleged joint employer have the right to assign additional work?
6. Does the alleged joint employer have discretion over when and how long the workers work?
7. Is the work being performed a part of the alleged joint employer’s regular business?

In this case, applying the 7 factors, the Court of Appeals ruled that the citrus grower did not exert much control and therefore was not a joint employer for the breach of contract claim — even though it was a joint employer for the FLSA claim. (The FLSA uses an Economic Realities Test, not a Right to Control Test, to determine whether someone is an employer.) That’s right — different tests, different results.

The citrus grower did not want to be a joint employer because it was not part of the alleged kickback scheme and did not want to be held jointly responsible. Nonetheless, it was found to be a joint employer under the FLSA but not under the breach of contract claim. Confusing stuff.

When making music, being together seems so much simpler, although much more prone to nonsense words. Just ask the Turtles, who in 1969 were “so happy together Ba-ba-ba-ba ba-ba-ba-ba ba-ba-ba ba-ba-ba-ba.”

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

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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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Here’s a Tip a Cartoon Cat Would Love: Try This Edit to Your Independent Contractor Agreements

Independent contractor misclassification cat“Whenever he gets in a fix, he reaches into his bag of tricks!” Yes, boys and girls, I am talking about Felix the Cat, whose magical bag of tricks could be transformed to get him out of any treacherous situation. Don’t you wish you had one of those?

Well, I won’t share mine, but I can offer this tip, which may help you avoid a treacherous situation.

This weekend I was reading a California decision on independent contractor misclassification. (I do other, more fun things in my free time too, so don’t make fun. Ok, you should make fun a little.) While analyzing Right to Control factors, the court ruled that the worst fact for the business was that it could terminate the contractor at will. The ability to terminate a relationship at will, the court ruled, was the “ultimate” form of control! Really? I agree it’s a factor among many, but the “ultimate factor”? Come on.

Anyway, this problem is easily avoided with some creativity. Allow me to reach into my bag of tricks.

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D.C. Court Doesn’t Fall for NLRB’s Lollipop Trick, Deems FedEx Drivers Independent Contractors

img_1042Act I, Scene 1

Location: Anywhere, USA

Boy: Can I have a red lollipop?

Mom: No, we’re eating dinner in half an hour.

Boy: (eats blue lollipop)

Mom: What are you doing? I said no!

Boy: I only asked about the red lollipop.

Too cute by half, right? Mom is no fool and easily sees through the simple trick. The boy is grounded.

Act I, Scene 2

Location:  D.C. Court of Appeals

NLRB: These FedEx drivers in Massachusetts are employees, not independent contractors.

D.C. Circuit (2009): No, they’re independent contractors.

NLRB: Ok, Connecticut then. The FedEx drivers in Connecticut are employees, not independent contractors.

D.C. Circuit (2017): Are you kidding me? We already ruled they are independent contractors.

NLRB: Last time I only asked about the drivers in Massachusetts.

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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

How Does the IRS Determine Who is an Employee?

accountant-accounting-adviser-advisor-159804

The IRS uses a Right to Control Test to determine whether a worker is an employee for tax purposes.

If the employer has the right to control the worker, that individual is deemed an employee and the company is subject to employment tax obligations. If the company does not exercise control over the worker but instead gives that worker significant independence, then the worker is generally viewed as an independent contractor. The more control and supervision by the employer, the more likely the worker will be deemed an employee.

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