Employment-related legislation continues to be a hot topic around the country. A number of state legislators have passed aggressive laws aimed at impacting employer-employee relationships. One of the most unique and far-reaching of these laws was just signed into law in the State of New Jersey. On August 16, 2019, the New Jersey Wage Theft Act became law.
For the past several years, attempts at the federal and state level to clarify rules on joint employment situations have caused considerable heartburn and anxiety for employers. While several states and the Obama administration attempted to broaden the situations in which companies could be held liable for joint employers, other states and the Trump administration have pushed back and sought to protect many types of companies from being held accountable as joint employers.
In the aftermath of California’s aggressive attempts to crack down on the “gig” economy, other states have moved as well, though often in different directions. While many states have moved to pass laws specifically designed to protect the status of “gig” workers, New Jersey is in the process of passing its own attempt to regulate these workers. Indeed, the proposed New Jersey legislation would go so far that it would classify almost all workers in the state as employees and make it incredibly difficult for someone to claim independent contractor status.
There has been an ongoing fight over how to define employees for the past few decades. As technology has re-shaped the workforce, this fight has gotten more intense. State and federal governments have struggled to set clear lines dividing independent contractors from employees for a number of purposes, including taxation and the application of workplace benefits. These benefits and taxes add on average 20% to 30% to the cost of hiring and paying a worker.
On April 1, 2019, the Department of Labor proposed a new regulation, and it wasn’t an April Fool’s joke. The new regulation would seek to update the Department’s sixty year old test for determining joint employer relationships under the Fair Labor Standards Act. It is worth noting that this is different from the long running dispute over the joint employer test decided by the National Labor Relations Board as a part of its 2013 Browning-Ferris decision. This new rule would apply to allegations that employers had failed to pay their workers legally obligated wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Joint employers would be jointly and severely liable for any ordered back pay.
The #MeToo movement is proving how social media affects the workplace, in this case the culture. While some commentary is concerned with the validity of claims or support of victims, there is no question that it has significantly increased the pressure on employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. Many employers have responded by increasing workplace training and updating their employment policies.
Developments over the last few years in federal labor law have generated a lot of discussion and analysis. Regulations and decisions affecting joint employer liability and the definition of employees at the federal level obviously draw the attention of employers. Its easy to overlook though that each state is often free to establish their own standards and tests for determining these questions; those standards may sometimes conflict with federal law.
The next step in the long running saga over the Browning Ferris rule has finally arrived. After the National Labor Relations Board issued its decision in Browning-Ferris in 2015, a wave of lawsuits, regulatory challenges, and attempted legislative overrides put the future of that decision into doubt. An overturning of the rule became a key focus of the new administration in charge at the National Labor Relations Board. The board even issued a decision that purported to overturn the rule only to have that decision retracted due to an ethics issue. Now, on September 13, 2018, the Board has issued a new proposed regulation that seek to overturn the Browning-Ferris decision.
Issues of joint employment responsibility continue to make headlines across the United States. Controversy has reigned ever since the National Labor Relations Board issued its decision in Browning-Ferris which changed the standards for establishing when a joint employment relationship exists. The Board has overturned its Browning-Ferris decision in the intervening years, only to have the case overturning Browning-Ferris itself get overturned due to ethical issues. States have moved forward with enforcing stricter joint employer liability standards even in the absence of federal action. Businesses have had to try and re-define their employment relationships in a world of considerable uncertainty.
Ever since August 27, 2015, employers that use staffing agencies, employ subcontractors or have franchisees have faced significant uncertainty over the extent to which they constitute employers according to the United States Department of Labor. On that day, the National Labor Relations Board issued its decision in Browning-Ferris Industries of California. The Browning-Ferris decision overturned recent precedent regarding when two or more entities would qualify as joint employers.