Employment relationships can take many forms, and employers’ perceptions of their legal responsibilities for certain workers is not always reality. An employer may classify workers as temporary or independent contractors, but that does not mean DOL will agree. This is particularly challenging due to continuous changes in the law relating to these types of employment relationships.
One particular area in flux over the past several years has been the joint-employer standard, significantly expanding in the Obama-era NLRB decision in Browning-Ferris, but in the wake of change through an ongoing NLRB rulemaking. Similarly, the boundary between employees and independent contractors has also been a moving target. Although the prior administration took the view that a majority of workers are employees in its guidance to employers, the Trump Admin. has signaled a change in direction.
Even where there is not a legal employer-employee relationship, companies may have certain safety and health obligations and potential liabilities depending on their role at multi-employer worksites or the use of temporary workers. Protecting temporary workers and enforcing the responsibilities of host employers and staffing agencies was a priority of OSHA in the Obama Admin. through a Temporary Worker Initiative that continues today. OSHA has also continued to defend its multi-employer worksite enforcement policy through legal challenges.
Employers’ perceptions about their legal responsibilities for certain workers is not always reality, particularly in the context of oft-changing interpretations of what constitutes an employer-employee relationship. An employer may classify workers as a temp or independent contractor, but that does not mean DOL agrees. At the tail end of the Obama Admin., DOL issued guidance that a majority of workers should be treated as employees, insinuating that in most cases, employers are accountable for the obligations of an employer-employee relationship. However, the Trump Admin. appears is shifting gears. That guidance was withdrawn by new Sec. of Labor Acosta. Congress has also begun to undercut the broad joint-employer standard established by the NLRB in Browning-Ferris, by revisiting language in applicable laws. It remains essential for employers to carefully evaluate employment relationships and their own functions in the multi-employer context.
Even if there is no legal employer-employee relationship, companies may have safety obligations and liability depending on their role at multi-employer worksites or when using temporary workers. Protection of temporary workers was a priority of OSHA in the prior Admin., and the guidance developed in that context remains the current standard for host employers and staffing agencies. OSHA has also stood by its multi-employer policy, though it is being challenged in federal court.
Employers must beware as the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) cracks down on what it perceives as rampant misclassifying employees as contractors and shirking other responsibilities, such as safety training, because a worker is supplied by another employer. With more and more unique employment relationships and multi-employer worksites, it is crucial to understand the complexities of how the DOL and its various enforcement agencies define the employment relationship and/or assign liability in these contexts.
It has long been a priority of the Obama Administration to treat more workers as actual employees of host employers in order to provide them with a litany of labor protections and benefits, even when these workers are not hired directly, may not stay long, and may not even consider themselves to be employees. This enforcement philosophy affects businesses in numerous areas – such as wage and hour law and OSHA compliance – even when employers thought staffing through an agency or on an independent contract basis relieved them of many of these DOL burdens and liabilities. Not only does this increase the cost of many temporary, contract and multi-employer arrangements, it also puts employers at great risk of costly DOL enforcement actions if they do not understand when they have the responsibility (as opposed to another employer) to satisfy certain terms of labor law compliance.
First and foremost to keep in mind, although an employer may classify a worker as an independent contractor or as a non-employee temporary worker, and their maybe contract documents that express that classification, that does not mean DOL takes the same view. Indeed, as DOL sees it, most workers should be treated as employees. Also, employers may have certain employment law and OSHA-related obligations and potential liability even for non-employees depending on the employers’ roles at multi-employer worksites or in joint-employer situations.
New ‘Joint Employer’ Standard
Outsourcing to a temporary or contract worker can be a great way for a company to take care of some tasks and may make more sense for the business, rather than hiring full-time workers to fill those gaps. However, if the DOL finds under one of various legal tests that the business is a joint-employer of that worker with another company, then numerous legal obligations kick in vis-a-vis these shared employees (such as collective bargaining and mandatory dispute resolution) as well as significant exposure for your organization under various labor laws.
In the past few years, both state and federal agencies have been expanding the joint-employer definition. Continue reading →
Employers’ perceptions about their legal responsibilities for certain workers is not always reality. Although an employer may classify a worker as a temporary worker or independent contractor, that does not mean the Department of Labor takes the same view. Recently, DOL has been vocal about its belief that most workers should be treated as employees, insinuating that in a majority of cases, it would hold employers accountable for the specific obligations of an employer-employee relationship. Additionally, employers may have certain employment law and OSHA related obligations and potential liability depending on their role at multi-employer worksites or in joint employer situations.
Overall, DOL has been cracking down on employee misclassification and division of responsibility among multiple employers; thus, it is essential for employers to carefully evaluate the employment relationship and their own individual function at in the multi-employer context.
In April of 2013, OSHA declared that protecting temporary workers would become a top priority, and that has proven true in 2014 with the roll-out of OSHA’s Temporary Worker Initiative and in 2015 with a heavy dose of enforcement and new guidance for employers. OSHA maintains that temporary employees are entitled to the same safety protections as other workers, and no one would dispute that, but the question remains, who is responsible – the staffing agency or the host employer – when a temporary worker is exposed to workplace hazards?
Although OSHA has regulated the treatment of temporary workers for many years, its new emphasis on protecting temporary workers has been sparked by several concerns. Most prominent among them is the surge (and expected continued growth) of the temporary workforce, the nature of the work performed by temporary workers, and recent fatalities among temporary workers. For purposes of the Initiative, OSHA defines “temporary worker” to include only one who is working in a host employer/staffing agency employment structure.
OSHA’s stated goals for the Temporary Worker Initiative are to:
Protect temporary workers from workplace hazards;
Ensure staffing agencies and host employers understand their safety and health obligations; and
Allow OSHA to learn information regarding hazards in workplaces utilizing temporary workers.
To achieve these goals, OSHA has been producing compliance assistance materials, such as fact sheets and webpages, conducting outreach to affected stakeholders, and of course, exercising its enforcement hammer. Specifically, OSHA directed its inspectors to Continue reading →
Today’s OSHA has increased enforcement to levels never seen before, from increased inspections and citations to dramatically higher penalties, from more criminal referrals to a heavy dose of public shaming. It is more important than ever to be prepared. This complimentary webinar series has been designed to give employers the tools they need to avoid becoming an OSHA-enforcement poster child.
We have recorded and will continued to record each of the webinars, and as we move through the year and conduct these webinars, we are pleased to provide links below to the recordings. There are also links below to the registration pages for the remaining webinars in the series. Check out the completed webinars and plan to join us for all or some of the rest of the series.