Avoiding Employee Misclassification Under the Fair Labor Standards Act

employee-puzzle-02New guidance is available for employers on how to avoid misclassifying employees as independent contractors for purposes of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which sets basic minimum wage and overtime pay standards. According to the guidance, most workers are employees under the FLSA.

To determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor under the FLSA, courts and the U.S. Department of Labor use the multi-factor “economic realities” test, outlined below, which focuses on whether the worker is economically dependent on the employer or truly in business for him or herself:

  • Is the Work an Integral Part of the Employer’s Business? If the work performed by a worker is integral to the employer’s business, it is more likely that the worker is economically dependent on the employer. A true independent contractor’s work, on the other hand, is unlikely to be integral to the employer’s business.
  • Does the Worker’s Managerial Skill Affect the Worker’s Opportunity for Profit or Loss? This factor should not focus on the worker’s ability to work more hours, but rather on whether the worker exercises managerial skills and whether those skills affect the worker’s opportunity for both profit and loss.
  • How Does the Worker’s Relative Investment Compare to the Employer’s Investment? The worker should make some investment (and therefore undertake at least some risk for a loss) in order for there to be an indication that he or she is an independent business. The worker’s investment should not be relatively minor compared with that of the employer. If the worker’s investment is relatively minor, that suggests the worker and the employer are not on similar footings and that the worker may be economically dependent on the employer.
  • Does the Work Performed Require Special Skill and Initiative? A worker’s business skills, judgment, and initiative—not his or her technical skills—will aid in determining whether the worker is economically independent.
  • Is the Relationship Between the Worker and Employer Permanent or Indefinite? Permanency or indefiniteness in the worker’s relationship with the employer suggests that the worker is an employee. However, a lack of permanence or indefiniteness does not automatically suggest an independent contractor relationship. The key is whether the lack of permanence or indefiniteness is due to operational characteristics intrinsic to the industry, or the worker’s own business initiative.
  • What is the Nature and Degree of the Employer’s Control? The employer’s control should be analyzed in light of the ultimate determination of whether the worker is economically dependent on the employer or truly an independent businessperson. The worker must control meaningful aspects of the work performed such that it is possible to view the worker as a person conducting his or her own business.

More information on which employers and workers are covered under the FLSA is featured in our section on the Fair Labor Standards Act.

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