By: Francine Foner, Esq., and Ty Hyderally, Esq.
On May 5, 2021, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced it was overturning a rule established during the Trump administration that permitted employers to more easily classify workers as independent contractors, rather than employees. This allowed employers to avoid having to pay such workers overtime and comply with other wage protections under the Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA), which applies to employees, but not independent contractors. The Trump-era “Independent Contractor Rule” changed the longstanding manner in which the DOL had defined who is an independent contractor, from considering multiple factors to considering only two factors: The control exerted by the employer and the worker’s opportunity for profit or loss.
Before this policy change, the DOL considered six factors in classifying an employee as an independent contractor, including: the amount of control the employer had over the work, the level of specialized skill needed by the worker, any investment the worker made in their business operations and the permanence of a relationship between the worker and employer. By limiting the test to consider only the control by the employer over the employee and the worker’s share in profit or loss, many workers who had traditionally been entitled to overtime and other wage protections were no longer protected.
According to the DOL’s website, after the Department reviewed approximately 1,000 comments submitted in response to a notice of proposed rulemaking on March 12, 2021 (See 86 FR 14027), it decided to rescind the two-factor Independent Contractor Rule. As the DOL explains, “the Department believes that the [Independent Contractor] Rule is inconsistent with the FLSA’s test and purpose, and would have a confusing and disruptive effect on workers and businesses alike due to its departure from longstanding judicial precedent.” (https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/flsa/2021-independent-contractor).
The new final rule, which re-establishes the traditional factors considered to determine whether a worker is an independent contractor:
The DOL’s action is a relief for many employees who would otherwise lose the protections of the FLSA, contrary to the intention and purpose of the FLSA.
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