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DEEP DIVE! New 4 Factor Test for Joint Employment

joint employer

Proposed joint employer rule includes 4-factor test: hiring and firing, supervision and control, payment, and recordkeeping

Noting it has not meaningfully revised its joint employer regulation since 1958, the Labor Department has announced via press release a proposed rule to revise and clarify the responsibilities of employers and joint employers.

The FLSA allows joint employer situations where an employer and a joint employer are jointly responsible for the employee’s wages. DOL proposes a four-factor test to consider whether the potential joint employer actually exercises the power to:

  • Hire or fire the employee;

  • Supervise and control the employee’s work schedules or conditions of employment;

  • Determine the employee’s rate and method of payment; and

  • Maintain the employee’s employment records.

The proposal would ensure employers and joint employers clearly understand their responsibilities to pay at least the federal minimum wage for all hours worked and overtime for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek, the agency said.

Reduce uncertainty. “This proposal will reduce uncertainty over joint employer status and clarify for workers who is responsible for their employment protections,” said Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta. “Providing public notice and comment is the best way to move forward with another significant deregulatory proposal.”

In June 2017, the DOL withdrew the previous administration’s sub-regulatory guidance regarding joint employer status, which did not go through the rulemaking process that includes public notice and comment.

DOL examples for comment. The proposal also includes a set of joint employment examples for comment that would further assist in clarifying joint employer status, notably in the franchise industry. DOL’s examples include:

(1) Example (nationwide restaurant franchise): An individual works 30 hours per week as a cook at one restaurant establishment, and 15 hours per week as a cook at a different restaurant establishment affiliated with the same nationwide franchise. These establishments are locally owned and managed by different franchisees that do not coordinate in any way with respect to the employee. Are they joint employers of the cook?

Application: Under these facts, the restaurant establishments are not joint employers of the cook because they are not associated in any meaningful way with respect to the cook’s employment. The similarity of the cook’s work at each restaurant, and the fact that both restaurants are part of the same nationwide franchise, are not relevant to the joint employer analysis, because those facts have no bearing on the question whether the restaurants are acting directly or indirectly in each other’s interest in relation to the cook.

(2) Example (same owner, multiple restaurants): An individual works 30 hours per week as a cook at one restaurant establishment, and 15 hours per week as a cook at a different restaurant establishment owned by the same person. Each week, the restaurants coordinate and set the cook’s schedule of hours at each location, and the cook works interchangeably at both restaurants. The restaurants decided together to pay the cook the same hourly rate. Are they joint employers of the cook?

Application: Under these facts, the restaurant establishments are joint employers of the cook because they share common ownership, coordinate the cook’s schedule of hours at the restaurants, and jointly decide the cook’s terms and conditions of employment, such as the pay rate. Because the restaurants are sufficiently associated with respect to the cook’s employment, they must aggregate the cook’s hours worked across the two restaurants for purposes of complying with the act.

(3) Example (janitorial services): An office park company hires a janitorial services company to clean the office park building after-hours. According to a contractual agreement with the office park and the janitorial company, the office park agrees to pay the janitorial company a fixed fee for these services and reserves the right to supervise the janitorial employees in their performance of those cleaning services. However, office park personnel do not set the janitorial employees’ pay rates or individual schedules and do not in fact supervise the workers’ performance of their work in any way. Is the office park a joint employer of the janitorial employees?

Application: Under these facts, the office park is not a joint employer of the janitorial employees because it does not hire or fire the employees, determine their rate or method of payment, or exercise control over their conditions of employment. The office park’s reserved contractual right to control the employee’s conditions of employment does not demonstrate that it is a joint employer.

(4) Example (landscaping services): A country club contracts with a landscaping company to maintain its golf course. The contract does not give the country club authority to hire or fire the landscaping company’s employees or to supervise their work on the country club premises. However, in practice a club official oversees the work of employees of the landscaping company by sporadically assigning them tasks throughout each workweek, providing them with periodic instructions during each workday, and keeping intermittent records of their work. Moreover, at the country club’s direction, the landscaping company agrees to terminate an individual worker for failure to follow the club official’s instructions. Is the country club a joint employer of the landscaping employees?

Application: Under these facts, the country club is a joint employer of the landscaping employees because the club exercises sufficient control, both direct and indirect, over the terms and conditions of their employment. The country club directly supervises the landscaping employees’ work and determines their schedules on what amounts to a regular basis. This routine control is further established by the fact that the country club indirectly fired one of landscaping employees for not following its directions.

(5) Example (staffing company): A packaging company requests workers on a daily basis from a staffing agency. The packaging company determines each worker’s hourly rate of pay, supervises their work, and uses sophisticated analysis of expected customer demand to continuously adjust the number of workers it requests and the specific hours for each worker, sending workers home depending on workload. Is the packaging company a joint employer of the staffing agency’s employees?

Application: Under these facts, the packaging company is a joint employer of the staffing agency’s employees because it exercises sufficient control over their terms and conditions of employment by setting their rate of pay, supervising their work, and controlling their work schedules.

(6) Example (association providing group benefits): An association, whose membership is subject to certain criteria such as geography or type of business, provides optional group health coverage and an optional pension plan to its members to offer to their employees. Employer B and Employer C both meet the association’s specified criteria, become members, and provide the association’s optional group health coverage and pension plan to their respective employees. The employees of both B and C choose to opt in to the health and pension plans. Does the participation of B and C in the Association’s health and pension plans make the association a joint employer of B’s and C’s employees, or B and C joint employers of each other’s employees?

Application: Under these facts, the association is not a joint employer of B’s or C’s employees, and B and C are not joint employers of each other’s employees. Participation in the association’s optional plans does not involve any control by the association, direct or indirect, over B’s or C’s employees. And while B and C independently offer the same plans to their respective employees, there is no indication that B and C are coordinating, directly or indirectly, to control the other’s employees. B and C are therefore not acting directly or indirectly in the interest of the other in relation to any employee.

(7) Example (supply chain contracts that include code of conduct, wage conditions): Entity A, a large national company, contracts with multiple other businesses in its supply chain. As a precondition of doing business with A, all contracting businesses must agree to comply with a code of conduct, which includes a minimum hourly wage higher than the federal minimum wage, as well as a promise to comply with all applicable federal, state, and local laws. Employer B contracts with A and signs the code of conduct. Does A qualify as a joint employer of B’s employees?

Application: Under these facts, A is not a joint employer of B’s employees. Entity A is not acting directly or indirectly in the interest of B in relation to B’s employees—hiring, firing, maintaining records, or supervising or controlling work schedules or conditions of employment. Nor is A exercising significant control over Employer B’s rate or method of pay—although A requires B to maintain a wage floor, B retains control over how and how much to pay its employees. Finally, because there is no indication that A’s requirement that B commit to comply with all applicable federal, state, and local law exerts any direct or indirect control over B’s employees, this requirement has no bearing on the joint employer analysis.

(8) Example (hotel industry franchise providing sample employment forms, documents): Franchisor A is a global organization representing a hospitality brand with several thousand hotels under franchise agreements. Franchisee B owns one of these hotels and is a licensee of A’s brand. In addition, A provides B with a sample employment application, a sample employee handbook, and other forms and documents for use in operating the franchise. The licensing agreement is an industry-standard document explaining that B is solely responsible for all day-to-day operations, including hiring and firing of employees, setting the rate and method of pay, maintaining records, and supervising and controlling conditions of employment. Is A a joint employer of B’s employees?

Application: Under these facts, A is not a joint employer of B’s employees. A does not exercise direct or indirect control over B’s employees. Providing samples, forms, and documents do not amount to direct or indirect control over B’s employees that would establish joint liability.

(9) Example (shared retail space requiring uniforms, code of conduct): A retail company owns and operates a large store. The retail company contracts with a cell phone repair company, allowing the repair company to run its business operations inside the building in an open space near one of the building entrances. As part of the arrangement, the retail company requires the repair company to establish a policy of wearing specific shirts and to provide the shirts to its employees that look substantially similar to the shirts worn by employees of the retail company. Additionally, the contract requires the repair company to institute a code of conduct for its employees stating that the employees must act professionally in their interactions with all customers on the premises. Is the retail company a joint employer of the repair company’s employees?

Application: Under these facts, the retail company is not a joint employer of the cell phone repair company’s employees. The retail company’s requirement that the repair company provide specific shirts to its employees and establish a policy that its employees to wear those shirts does not, on its own, demonstrate substantial control over the repair company’s employees’ terms and conditions of employment. Moreover, requiring the repair company to institute a code of conduct or allowing the repair company to operate on its premises does not make joint employer status more or less likely under the act. There is no indication that the retail company hires or fires the repair company’s employees, controls any other terms and conditions of their employment, determines their rate and method of payment, or maintains their employment records.

Said Keith Sonderling, Acting Administrator for the Department’s Wage and Hour Division. “The proposed changes would provide courts with a clearer method for determining joint employer status, promote greater uniformity among court decisions, and reduce litigation.”

More information about the proposed joint employer rule is available at www.dol.gov/whd/flsa/jointemployment2019.

The DOL encourages any interested members of the public to submit comments about the proposed rule electronically at www.regulations.gov, in the rulemaking docket RIN 1235-AA26. Once the rule is published in the Federal Register, the public will have 60 days to submit comments for those comments to be considered.

Source: Joy Waltemath, J.D.

About the author, Rhamy

Rhamy grew up watching and working with his mother and grandmother in the seniors insurance market. This familiarity with the struggles faced by people trying to navigate the incredibly complicated and heavily regulated healthcare market led him to start Poplar Financial while working on his degree at the University of Memphis. After completing his MBA and Bachelors in Finance and Economics, Rhamy guided Poplar Financial through the disruptive opportunity that is the Affordable Care Act. Since then Poplar Financial has received numerous awards from major insurance carriers, and has completed its fourth year in a row of doubling in size. Now his team focuses on the processes around human resources, and specializes in providing companies with between 20 and 1000 employees with the payroll, benefits, and HR needs.

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