No business wants to get hit with a bill or judgement for unpaid overtime or other wages and penalties under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). It’s even worse when the order to pay is for back pay another business owed but didn’t pay. New FLSA joint employer regulations released today update the rules about when your business could get stuck paying another business’ backpay. That’s why all U.S. employers should re-evaluate their potential minimum wage, overtime, recordkeeping and other Fair Labor Standards Acts (“FLSA”) liability exposure from work performed by workers employed by subcontractors or contractors, staffing, leasing, manpower and workforce and other separate business entities in light of the new Final Rule: Joint Employer Status under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“Final Rule”) on determining joint employer status under the FLSA released by the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (“Labor Department”). The Labor Department released a copy of the Final Rule to the public today today (January 13, 2020) in anticipation of its scheduled official publication in the Federal Register on January 16, 2019.
Joint Employer Liability Long Standing FLSA Risk
Many businesses and their management are unaware that if their business meets the definition of a “joint employer” for purposes of the FLSA, their businesses could be required to pay unpaid wages and penalties another business owes for failing to pay minimum wage or overtime or other FLSA violations. even though their business never directly employed those workers. This is because the FLSA also makes business that are “joint employers” as defined for purposes of the FLSA jointly and severally liable with the direct employer for proper payment of wages and other compliance with the FLSA. The FLSA requires covered employers to pay their employees at least the federal minimum wage for every hour worked and overtime for every hour worked over 40 in a workweek. To be liable for paying minimum wage or overtime, an individual or entity must be an “employer,” which the FLSA defines in Section 3(d) to include “any person acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee[.]” Under the FLSA, an employee may have—in addition to his or her employer—one or more joint employers. A joint employer is any additional “person” (i.e., an individual or entity) who is jointly and severally liable with the employer for the employee’s wages under the applicable Labor Department regulations.
While both the Labor Department and private litigants have used the joint employer rules and precedent to nail businesses for other employer’s wage and hour liability frequently for the past sixty plus years, Obama Administration changes in the Labor Department’s interpretation and enforcement of the joint employer rule have significantly broadened the scope of relationships found to constitute joint employment to include a broad range of subcontractor and other business relationships not historically recognized as triggering joint employer liability. Historically, joint employer determinations were reached by applying highly subjective, fact specific analysis heavily reliant upon decades of court decisions which required some evidence that the alleged joint employer possessed or exercised some control over the employees to support the finding of joint employment. Under these historical tests, mere benefit from work performed by individuals employed by another employer did not establish a presumption, much less proof of joint employment.
During the Obama Administration, however, the Department of Labor both stepped up its efforts to identify and enforce these joint employer provisions and concurrently without formally issuing new regulations adopted interpretive and enforcement guidelines for finding joint employer status that that significantly broadened the employment relationships that the Labor Department treated as joint employers in a manner that presumed the existence of a joint employment relationship whenever the alleged joint employer benefitted from the performance of work even when the facts showed little or any evidence that the alleged joint employer possessed or exercised any control over the employee or the details of his work. As a consequences, construction and other businesses uses contractors, health care organizations, and a host of other entities were surprised to be nailed with wage and hour liabilities arising from work performed by subcontractors, contractors, and other businesses including overtime liability attributable to work performed for the benefit of other customers of the employer.
Final Joint Employer Rule Changes Rules Effective March 16, 2020
Prompted by the Trump Administration’s broader effort to roll back these and other Obama Era pro-labor rulemaking and enforcement, the new Final Rule seeks to restore and reaffirm the requirement of evidence of the possession of authority or exercise of some traditional employer control by the alleged joint employer. Scheduled to take effect on March 16, 2020, the new Final Rule will continue to recognize two potential scenarios where an employee may have one or more joint employers based on a highly subjective analysis of the factual realities of an alleged joint employer with another business or businesses under two scenarios:
- The employee has an employer who suffers, permits, or otherwise employs the employee to work, but another individual or entity simultaneously benefits from that work (“Scenario One”); versus
- One employer employs an employee for one set of hours in a workweek, and another employer employs the same employee for a separate set of hours in the same workweek (“Scenario Two”).
The Final Rule modifies and clarifies the Labor Department’s historical joint employer rule as it relates to the determination of joint employment status in Scenario One situations but leaves substantially unchanged its existing rules on joint employer determinations in Scenario Two situations.
Finally, the Final Rule provides several examples of how the Department’s joint employer guidance should be applied in various factual circumstances
Final Rule Modifications To Existing Rules On Joint Employment in Scenario One Situations
Under the Final Rule in a Scenario One situation under which an employee performs work for the employer that simultaneously benefits another individual or entity, the Final Rule adopts a four-factor balancing test to determine whether the potential joint employer is directly or indirectly controlling the employee, assessing whether the potential joint employer:
- hires or fires the employee;
- supervises and controls the employee’s work schedule or conditions of employment to a substantial degree;
- determines the employee’s rate and method of payment; and
- maintains the employee’s employment records.
Businesses should keep in mind that proof of the exercise of exercise direct control over these details of employment of an employee is not required for a finding of joint employment. Indirect exercise of control is sufficient. Examples of indirect exercise of control recognized in the Final Regulations as supporting joint employer liability include control over an employee through mandatory directions to another employer that directly control the employee. However, indirect control does not include the direct employer’s voluntary decision to accommodate the potential joint employer’s request, recommendation, or suggestion. Similarly, acts that incidentally impact the employee do not indicate joint employer status. For example, a restaurant could request lower fees from its cleaning contractor, which, if agreed to, could impact the wages of the cleaning contractor’s employees. However, this request would not constitute an exercise of indirect control over the employee’s rate of payment.
Like under the prior rules and standards, whether a person is a joint employer under the new standards established in the Final Rule will continue to depend upon all the facts in a particular case, and the appropriate weight to give each factor will vary depending on the circumstances. Moreover, all of these factors need not be present for joint employment to exist. However, the Final Rule states the potential joint employer’s maintenance of the employee’s employment records alone will not lead to a finding of joint employer status. For purposes of its provisions, the Final Rule defines the “employment records” referred to in the fourth factor to mean only those records, such as payroll records, that reflect, relate to, or otherwise record information pertaining to the hiring or firing, supervision and control of the work schedules or conditions of employment, or determining the rate and method of payment of the employee.
Additionally, the Final Rule also notes that additional factors may also be relevant in determining whether another person is a joint employer in this situation, but only when they show whether the potential joint employer is exercising significant control over the terms and conditions of the employee’s work.
The Final Rule also identifies factors that are not relevant to the determination of FLSA joint employer status. For example, the Final Rule specifies that whether the employee is economically dependent on the potential joint employer, including factors traditionally used to establish whether a particular worker is a bona fide independent contractor (e.g., the worker’s opportunity for profit or loss, their investment in equipment and materials, etc.), are not relevant to determine joint employer liability. Economic dependence was an evidentiary factor promoted as evidence of joint employment in several Obama Administration era enforcement actions.
The Final Rule also identifies certain other factors that do not make joint employer status more or less likely under the Act which had been relied upon by the Labor Department under the Obama Administration era interpretation of the FLSA, including:
- operating as a franchisor or entering into a brand and supply agreement, or using a similar business model;
- the potential joint employer’s contractual agreements with the employer requiring the employer to comply with its legal obligations or to meet certain standards to protect the health or safety of its employees or the public;
- the potential joint employer’s contractual agreements with the employer requiring quality control standards to ensure the consistent quality of the work product, brand, or business reputation; and
- the potential joint employer’s practice of providing the employer with a sample employee handbook, or other forms, allowing the employer to operate a business on its premises (including “store within a store” arrangements), offering an association health plan or association retirement plan to the employer or participating in such a plan with the employer, jointly participating in an apprenticeship program with the employer, or any other similar business practice.
Additionally, the Final Rule makes clear that a finding of joint employer status in Scenario One situations must be based on an actual exercise of control by the alleged joint employer. In this respect, the Final Rule provides that although an individual or entity’s power, ability, or reserved contractual right to exercise control relating to one or more of the factors may be relevant in determining whether they are an FLSA joint employer, such power, ability, or reserved contractual rights are not in themselves sufficient to establish FLSA joint employer status without some actual exercise of control.
Final Rule Retains Existing Rules On Joint Employment In Scenario Two Situations
The Final Rule did not make any substantive changes to the standard for determining joint employer liability in Scenario Two situations. If the employers are acting independently of each other and are disassociated with respect to the employment of the employee, the Final Rule continues to provide that each employer may disregard all work performed by the employee for the other employer in determining its liability under the FLSA. However, if the factual realities show that the employers are sufficiently associated with respect to the employment of the employee, the Final Rule continues to state that the two businesses are joint employers and must aggregate the hours worked for each for purposes of determining if they are in compliance.
For purposes of the Scenario Two analysis, the Final Rule provides that employers generally will be sufficiently associated if there is an arrangement between them to share the employee’s services, the employer is acting directly or indirectly in the interest of the other employer in relation to the employee, or they share control of the employee, directly or indirectly, by reason of the fact that one employer controls, is controlled by, or is under common control with the other employer. Employers using manpower, staffing, employee leasing or other shared or part time workforces should keep in mind that a finding that their business is a joint employer with the supplier of the workers can result in liability for their business associated both for hours of work performed for the benefit of their business as well as any work the employee worked for another client of the supplier business. As these shared workforces often perform work for several competitors, ironically this often means that a joint employer often ends up payment overtime liability attributable to unpaid overtime or other wages performed for a competitor business or businesses that also are clients of the same partial workforce supplier.
Businesses Should Act To Assess & Mitigate Joint Employer & Other FLSA Liability
The Labor Departments that its adoption of the revisions to the joint employer rule made by the Final Rule will add greater certainty regarding what business practices may result in joint employer status: and promote greater uniformity among court decisions by providing a clearer interpretation of FLSA joint employer status. While the clarifications may help businesses to better predict certain relationships and arrangements that carry a higher risk of joint employer liability exposure, businesses must keep in mind that joint employer determinations under the Final Rule will continue to turn on highly subjective analysis of facts and circumstances that existing precedent suggests often finds the requisite evidence to find a joint employer relationship in many circumstances surprising to many business owners even taking into account the modifications made by the Final Rule, For this reason, virtually all businesses generally will want to critically evaluate their existing and prospective relationships for potential joint employer liability under the FLSA in light of the Final Regulations.
Businesses should look to the guidance in the new Final Rule initially to evaluate whether their existing or prospective relationships meet, or could be restructured to meet all of the requisites to avoid or reduce the risk of findings of joint employer status. When possible, businesses should seek to structure their contractual relationships and business dealings with other businesses to fit as closely as possible with those arrangements that the new Final Regulations identify as not constituting joint employer relationships in form and operation. When engaging in these efforts, businesses need to look beyond their contractual agreements to examine the factual realities of their relationships with other businesses realistically based upon a clear understanding of the historical precedent to avoid mischaracterizing their relationships and their associated risks. For added protection, businesses also should consider seeking contractual representations of compliance, coupled with requirements that other businesses whose employment practices could create joint employment risk provide records and other documentation needed to verify compliance and defend against potential joint employer liability claims.
Concurrently, businesses looking at FLSA joint employer liability risk management also should keep in mind that the new Final Rule only addresses joint employer determinations under the FLSA. This Final Rule does not address “joint employer” status or other characterizations of relationships under other federal employment laws, such as the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, state labor, tax, unemployment, workers’ compensation or other laws, which often apply different standards for finding joint employment or other imputed liability of businesses other than the direct or nominal employer. While different rules apply for those laws, government agencies and private litigants also increasingly successfully assert joint employer or other theories to impute liability to businesses that are not the nominal employer of workers protected by these laws. To effectively plan for a control their broader joint employer risk, most businesses benefit from looking at their exposure holistically taking into account the potential characterization and liabilities under all of these rules concurrently.
Before beginning these assessments, businesses and their leaders are encouraged to engage an attorney experienced in FLSA and other joint employer and other worker classification laws in light of the legally sensitive evidence and discussions inherently involved in this process. Conducting this analysis within the scope of attorney-client privilege helps protector limit the discoverability of sensitive discussions and work product in the event of a Labor Department investigation or litigation.
For More Information
We hope this update is helpful. For more information about this or other labor and employment developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.
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About the Author
Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Law and Labor and Employment Law and Health Care; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of health industry and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.
Ms. Stamer’s work throughout her 30 plus year career has focused heavily on working with health care and managed care, health and other employee benefit plan, insurance and financial services, construction, manufacturing, staffing and workforce and other public and private organizations and their technology, data, and other service providers and advisors domestically and internationally with legal and operational compliance and risk management, performance and workforce management, regulatory and public policy and other legal and operational concerns. As a part of this work, she has continuously and extensively worked with domestic and international employer and other management, employee benefit and other clients to assess, manage and defend joint employer and other worker classifications and practices under the FLSA and other federal and state laws including both advising and and assisting employers to minimize joint employer and other FLSA liability and defending a multitude of employers against joint employer and other FLSA and other worker classification liability. She also has been heavily involved in advocating for the Trump Administration’s restoration of more historical principles for determining and enforcing joint employer liability over the past several years.
Author of hundreds of highly regarded books, articles and other publications, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her scholarship, coaching, legislative and regulatory advocacy, leadership and mentorship on wage and hour, worker classification and a diverse range of other labor and employment, employee benefits, health and safety, education, performance management, privacy and data security, leadership and governance, and other management concerns within the American Bar Association (ABA), the International Information Security Association, the Southwest Benefits Association, and a variety of other international, national and local professional, business and civic organizations including highly regarded works on worker reclassification and joint employment liability under the FLSA and other laws published by the Bureau of National Affairs and others. Examples of these involvements include her service as the ABA Intellectual Property Law Section Law Practice Management Committee; the ABA International Section Life Sciences and Health Committee Vice Chair-Policy; a Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting and a former JCEB Council Representative and Marketing Chair; Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits and Other Compensation Group and Vice Chair of its Law Practice Management Committee; Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group; former Vice President and Executive Director of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Southwest Benefits Association Board member; past Texas Association of Business State Board Member, BACPAC Committee Meeting, Regional and Dallas Chapter Chair; past Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits Committee Executive Committee; former SHRM Region IV Chair and National Consultants Forum Board Member; for WEB Network of Benefit Professionals National Board Member and Dallas Chapter Chair; former Dallas World Affairs Council Board Member; founding Board Member, past President and Patient Empowerment and Health Care Heroes founder for the Alliance for Health Care Excellence; former Gulf States TEGE Council Exempt Organizations Coordinator and Board member; past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, and involvement in a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.
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