Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, certain workers can be considered legally employees even if they were brought on as independent contractors. The main issue for the courts is whether the worker has significant control over the details and performance of the job. The less control the employee has, the greater the chance they will be found to be an employee.
This can have major implications for the worker and for the employer. For example, an employee is generally entitled to a minimum wage and the overtime premium, along with workers’ compensation insurance, unemployment insurance and employer payment of half their payroll taxes. Employees are also entitled to reimbursement for costs of doing the job, such as mileage reimbursement and payment for any required uniforms.
Sometimes, workers don’t find out that they are legally considered employees for some time. That can mean that the employer owes the employee significant back-pay and benefits, and that the employer owes the local jurisdiction money for unpaid payroll taxes and benefits.
Even a newspaper delivery person could be an employee
The position of newspaper delivery person is one of the classic examples of a contract worker, but this is not necessarily the case, as a federal judge in California recently found.
The man in question had been delivering the San Francisco Chronicle in Northern California for almost 40 years. After Hearst Communications bought the Chronicle in 2008, the man signed new contracts. However, based on those contracts and the new responsibilities they included, he began to suspect he was no longer legally a contractor but an employee.
Hearst argued that the man was given some freedom in how to perform the job. He could use his own vehicle. He could choose his own route, as long as all routes were completed by 6 a.m. weekdays and 7:30 on Sundays. True, he was required to pick up the papers from the warehouse by a certain time, but he was allowed to handle the sorting on his own. However, the sorting did have to be done in a facility he leased from Hearst.
The judge determined that the man had very little actual control over the details of the job, Hearst’s argument notwithstanding. Combined with the fact that the man had been delivering exclusively for the Chronicle for almost 40 years, the lack of control he had over the details of his job made clear he was an employee, not a contractor.
Your classification as an employee or a contractor has significant financial impact. If you are concerned you have been misclassified as an independent contractor, discuss your situation with an experienced employment law attorney.