A former contestant on the Netflix reality show “Love is Blind” has filed a lawsuit alleging, among other things, that he was subjected to “inhumane working conditions,” and that he was improperly classified as an independent contractor.
In his complaint, Jeremy Hartwell alleged that Netflix willfully misclassified him and others as independent contractors when, in fact, Netflix exercised a tremendous amount of control over them. According to Hartwell, Netflix “exercised substantial control over every aspect of the Cast’s lives during production, including the Cast’s time, access to food and drinks, sleeping arrangements, and contact with family and friends and other persons outside of production.” Hartwell alleges that Netflix “regularly refused timely food and water to the Cast” while simultaneously plying contestants with unlimited alcohol.
Under federal and state wage and hour laws, employees are obligated to receive at least minimum wage for all hours worked, plus overtime for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week. However, these laws don’t apply to independent contractors, so many employers attempt to skirt these requirements by classifying their workers as “independent contractors.” Luckily, employers cannot so easily avoid their wage obligations because a worker’s status is determined by an objective test, not simply how an employer chooses to classify them.
To determine whether an individual is an independent contractor or an employee, courts apply the six-factor “economic realities” test:
(1) The degree of control that the putative employer has over the manner in which the work is performed;
(2) The worker’s opportunities for profit or loss dependent on his managerial skill;
(3) The worker’s investment in equipment or material, or his employment of other workers;
(4) The degree of skill required for the work;
(5) The permanence of the working relationship; and
(6) The degree to which the services rendered are an integral part of the putative employer’s business.
Although the lawsuit is in its early stages and the Court has not issued a ruling on whether Netflix mischaracterized the show’s contestants, the extreme degree of control strongly suggests that Hartwell and his co-contestants were, in fact, employees.
The lesson for employers is clear: you cannot avoid your wage and hour obligations by simply declaring that your workers are indepdnent contractors. If an employer wants to retain a significant degree of control over their workers’ conduct, they must be prepared to pay them overtime and minimum wage.