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Important Update: New Worker Classification Guidelines

With more companies relying on independent contractors rather than employees, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued a memo last month attempting to clarify the government’s position on “worker classification.” Misclassification has major ramifications for tax collection, overtime pay, workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance. It is important to consider the DOL’s new “economic realities” test to ensure you are properly classifying your workers or being properly classified by an employer. This article outlines the six questions at the heart of the new test and provides the DOL’s examples. Even with the new guidelines worker classification may still be difficult.  The DOL’s memo, which you may read in full here, establishes a new “economic realities” test to determine whether or not a worker is an employee. This test seeks to determine if the worker is economically dependent on the business. Consider the following questions:

  • Is the work an integral part of the employer’s business?
    • Examples provided by the DOL: “For a construction company that frames residential homes, carpenters are integral to the employer’s business because the company is in business to frame homes, and carpentry is an integral part of providing that service.”  “In contrast, the same construction company may contract with a software developer to create software that, among other things, assists the company in tracking its bids, scheduling projects and crews, and tracking material orders. The software developer is performing work that is not integral to the construction company’s business, which is indicative of an independent contractor.”
  • Does the worker’s managerial skill affect the worker’s opportunity for profit or loss?
    • Examples provided by the DOL:         “A worker provides cleaning services for corporate clients. The worker performs assignments only as determined by a cleaning company; he does not independently schedule assignments, solicit additional work from other clients, advertise his services, or endeavor to reduce costs. The worker regularly agrees to work additional hours at any time in order to earn more. In this scenario, the worker does not exercise managerial skill that affects his profit or loss. Rather, his earnings may fluctuate based on the work available and his willingness to work more. This lack of managerial skill is indicative of an employment relationship between the worker and the cleaning company.”  “In contrast, a worker provides cleaning services for corporate clients, produces advertising, negotiates contracts, decides which jobs to perform and when to perform them, decides to hire helpers to assist with the work, and recruits new clients. This workerexercises managerial skill that affects his opportunity for profit and loss, which is indicative of an independent contractor.”
  • How does the workers’ relative investment compare to the employer’s investment?
    • Examples provided by the DOL: “A worker providing cleaning services for a cleaning company is issued a Form 1099-MISC each year and signs a contract stating that she is an independent contractor. The company provides insurance, a vehicle to use, and all equipment and supplies for the worker. The company invests in advertising and finding clients. The worker occasionally brings her own preferred cleaning supplies to certain jobs. In this scenario, the relative investment of the worker as compared to the employer’s investment is indicative of an employment relationship between the worker and the cleaning company. The worker’s investment in cleaning supplies does little to further a business beyond that particular job.” “A worker providing cleaning services receives referrals and sometimes works for a local cleaning company. The worker invests in a vehicle that is not suitable for personal use and uses it to travel to various worksites. The worker rents her own space to store the vehicle and materials. The worker also advertises and markets her services and hires a helper for larger jobs. She regularly (as opposed to on a job-by-job basis) purchases material and equipment to provide cleaning services and brings her own equipment (vacuum, mop, broom, etc.) and cleaning supplies to each worksite. Her level of investments is similar to the investments of the local cleaning company for whom she sometimes works. These types of investments may be indicative of an independent contractor.”
  • Does the work performed require special skills and initiative?
    • Examples provided by the DOL: “A highly skilled carpenter provides carpentry services for a construction firm; however, such skills are not exercised in an independent manner. For example, the carpenter does not make any independent judgments at the job site beyond the work that he is doing for that job; he does not determine the sequence of work, order additional materials, or think about bidding the next job, but rather is told what work to perform where. In this scenario, the carpenter, although highly-skilled technically, is not demonstrating the skill and initiative of an independent contractor (such as managerial and business skills). He is simply providing his skilled labor.”   “In contrast, a highly skilled carpenter who provides a specialized service for a variety of area construction companies, for example, custom, handcrafted cabinets that are made-to-order, may be demonstrating the skill and initiative of an independent contractor if the carpenter markets his services, determines when to order materials and the quantity of materials to order, and determines which orders to fill.”
  • Is the relationship between the worker and the employer permanent or indefinite?
    • Examples provided by the DOL:  “An editor has worked for an established publishing house for several years. Her edits are completed in accordance with the publishing house’s specifications, using its software. She only edits books provided by the publishing house. This scenarioindicates a permanence to the relationship between the editor and the publishing house that is indicative of an employment relationship.” “Another editor has worked intermittently with fifteen different publishing houses over the past several years. She markets her services to numerous publishing houses. She negotiates rates for each editing job and turns down work for any reason, including because she is too busy with other editing jobs. This lack of permanence with one publishing house is indicative of an independent contractor relationship.”
  • What is the nature and degree of the employer’s control?

Examples provided by the DOL:  “A registered nurse who provides skilled nursing care in nursing homes is listed with Beta Nurse Registry in order to be matched with clients. The registry interviewed the nurse prior to her joining the registry, and also required the nurse to undergo a multi-day training presented by Beta. Beta sends the nurse a listing each week with potential clients and requires the nurse to fill out a form with Beta prior to contacting any clients. Beta also requires that the nurse adhere to a certain wage range and the nurse cannot provide care during any weekend hours. The nurse must inform Beta if she is hired by a client and must contact Beta if she will miss scheduled work with any client. In this scenario, the degree of control exercised by the registry is indicative of an employment relationship.”  “Another registered nurse who provides skilled nursing care in nursing homes is listed with Jones Nurse Registry in order to be matched with clients. The registry sends the nurse a listing each week with potential clients. The nurse is free to call as many or as few potential clients as she wishes and to work for as many or as few as she wishes; the nurse also negotiates her own wage rate and schedule with the client. In this scenario, the degree of control exercised by the registry is not indicative of an employment relationship.

In conclusion, the DOL stresses the importance of proper classification of workers to ensure the protection of the worker’s rights. They further state that the definition of employment is purposefully broad in order to provide extensive coverage to workers.