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Media and Telecom Companies Must Adapt to New DOL Rule on Classifying Employees and Independent Contractors

Given that the name of this site is CommLawCenter, our focus is generally on communications law and regulation.  More accurately, however, our focus is on legal developments that affect the media and telecom industries, even when they emanate from entities other than Congress or the FCC.  This is particularly true where a change in non-communications laws could have an outsize impact on the communications industry.  For that reason, we have in the past written about changes involving a variety of employment matters, including who is entitled to overtime pay and when does an intern need to be paid?

Because of that industry focus, being a good communications lawyer often requires more subject matter versatility than most lawyers will ever need.  However, it is certainly helpful to also have access to the excellent group of employment lawyers at Pillsbury, which brings me to today’s topic–last week’s release by the Department of Labor of a new final rule replacing the prior test for determining whether a worker is an employee (entitled to overtime and other benefits) or an independent contractor under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The new DOL rule restores the six-factor “economic realities” test used during the Obama administration, which generally makes it harder to classify a worker as an independent contractor by focusing on the degree to which the worker is economically dependent on the “employer.”  This replaces the two-factor test adopted by the DOL during the Trump administration, which focused principally on two factors–the employer’s degree of control over the work and the worker’s opportunity for profit and loss.

The six factors of the new test are:

  1. The opportunity for profit or loss depending on the worker’s managerial skill
  2. Investments by the worker and the potential employer in the work being produced
  3. The degree of permanence of the work relationship
  4. The nature and degree of the worker’s control over the work
  5. The extent to which the work performed is an integral part of the potential employer’s business
  6. Whether the work performed requires special skills or initiative

A far more detailed description of the new test and how each of these factors enters into the determination (and may interact with a state’s own employment laws) can be found in a pithy advisory from Pillsbury’s employment team on the subject: Employers Face Greater Misclassification Risk Under Resurrected Federal Independent Contractor Rule, Opening Door to Substantial Liability.  It is well worth the read, particularly given the substantial costs and penalties faced by businesses found to have misclassified employees as independent contractors.  It is also time to review your prior classifications of workers as independent contractors to make sure they still hold up under the new rule.