Staffing Management

Who Is an Employee? DOL has Answers in Guidance on Independent-Contractor Status

By Jon Hyman

Jul. 16, 2015

I’ve written a lot in the past year about the distinction between employees and independent contractors under federal wage-and-hour laws (hereherehere, and here).

To me, here is what it all boils down to (cribbed from my post, The “duck” test for independent contractors:

The best test to determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor is the “duck” test—if it looks like an employee, acts like an employee, and is treated like an employee, then it’s an employee…. I think you know an employee when you see one.

I’ve also cautioned that it is very difficult for an employer to justify the classification of a worker as an independent contractor, and that if you exercise any control over how workers perform services for you, it is likely that they should be classified as employees, not independent contractors.

Make no mistake, this issue is of vital importance, because the misclassification of an employee as a contractor carries with it serious implication under the FLSA, the employment discrimination laws, ERISA, tax laws, and any other laws that regulate the relationship between employer and employee.

On July 15, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division Administrator David Weil issued a crucial Administrator’s Interpretation on this issue. Entitled, “The Application of the Fair Labor Standards Act’s “Suffer or Permit” Standard in the Identification of Employees Who Are Misclassified as Independent Contractors,” the guidance clarifies the uphill battle employers face on this issue and asserts that “most workers are employees.”

In sum, most workers are employees under the FLSA’s broad definitions. The very broad definition of employment under the FLSA as “to suffer or permit to work” and the Act’s intended expansive coverage for workers must be considered when applying the economic realities factors to determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. The factors should not be analyzed mechanically or in a vacuum, and no single factor, including control, should be over-emphasized. Instead, each factor should be considered in light of the ultimate determination of whether the worker is really in business for him or herself (and thus is an independent contractor) or is economically dependent on the employer (and thus is its employee).

What should employers do in response to this guidance? At the end of the day, nothing different than that which I’ve been suggesting for the past few years—in all but the clearest of cases, assume that everyone you pay in exchange for services is an employee, and act accordingly. This issue is squarely on the the DOL’s radar, and employers who take unnecessary risks do so at their peril.

Jon Hyman is a partner in the Employment & Labor practice at Wickens Herzer Panza. Contact Hyman at JHyman@Wickenslaw.com.

What’s New at Workforce.com?

blog workforce

Come see what we’re building in the world of predictive employee scheduling, superior labor insights and next-gen employee apps. We’re on a mission to automate workforce management for hourly employees and bring productivity, optimization and engagement to the frontline.

Book a call
See the software

Related Articles

workforce blog

Staffing Management

Managing employee time-off requests: A guide for business owners

Summary Vacation, sick time, PTO banks, and unpaid leave are only a few forms of employee time off — Mo...

workforce blog

Staffing Management

4 proven steps for tackling employee absenteeism

Summary Identifying the cause of employee absenteeism not only helps uncover deeper-rooted issues — Mor...

absence management, Employee scheduling software, predictive scheduling, shift bid, shift swapping

workforce blog

Staffing Management

Employee or contractor? 6 worker misclassification FAQs

Misclassification of employees as independent contractors led to overtime violations, according to a La...

compliance, Department of Labor, employee engagement, FLSA, HR technology, Worker misclassification