A New York federal district court judge has struck down significant portions of the U.S. Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) joint employer rule, which went into effect earlier this year.  As a result of this ruling, certain companies may be more likely to be deemed joint employers and exposed to liability for wage and hour violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).

As we described here, in March 2020, a final rule issued by DOL went into effect implementing a four-factor test for determining whether more than one entity may be considered an individual’s employer under the FLSA.  The new test shifted the existing rule’s focus on the “economic realities” of the alleged employer/employee relationship to a narrower inquiry regarding whether the alleged employer actually exercised control over the alleged employment relationship.

The District Court for the Southern District of New York has now held that DOL’s final joint employer rule violated the Administrative Procedures Act for two reasons.  First, the court found that the rule contradicted the text of the FLSA because it ignored relevant concepts defined in the statute, such as the definitions of “employ” and “employee,” and that DOL had erroneously applied different standards for “primary” and “joint” employment when no such distinction exists in the FLSA itself.  Second, the court found that DOL’s reasoning for the rule change was arbitrary, capricious, and not supported by adequate evidence.


Continue Reading Federal District Court Strikes Down DOL Joint Employer Rule

The U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) has published a final rule, which takes effect on March 16, 2020, outlining the new four-factor approach DOL will use to determine whether, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), a business is a “joint employer” of another company’s employees and thus jointly and severally liable for wage and hour obligations.  The new rule comes as good news for employers because it establishes a concrete and narrow standard for determining joint employer status and is expected to provide clearer guidance to federal courts making joint employer determinations.

The final rule represents the first time in 60 years that DOL has issued a joint employer rule, although over the decades it has issued guidance both expanding and contracting the scope of the definition and potential liability.  Furthermore, the rule is consistent with a series of actions that DOL, under the Trump administration, has taken to rescind the previously broader definition of “joint employer” under the Obama administration (including its June 7, 2017 withdrawal of employee-friendly Administrator’s Interpretation guidance documents from 2015 and 2016).


Continue Reading DOL Issues Final “Joint Employer” Rule

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recently announced that it will apply a new, more flexible test for determining whether interns working for “for-profit” companies are entitled to minimum wage and overtime protection under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The new test is set forth in DOL Fact Sheet #71 (updated January 2018).

The FLSA requires employers to pay “employees” minimum wage and overtime. It has long been recognized, however, that certain categories of workers are not “employees” for purposes of the FLSA. This includes unpaid interns. Prior to this announcement, the DOL applied a strict test that required private employers to establish six different factors to demonstrate that workers were appropriately classified as unpaid interns. In the past few years, as litigation over the use of unpaid interns increased, that test had been rejected by courts, including the United States Courts of Appeals for the Second and Ninth Circuits. Decisions issued by those courts favored a more flexible test that holistically examines the relationship between an intern and employer to determine who is the “primary beneficiary” of the relationship.

The announcement by DOL is intended to align its enforcement policies with this more recent case law and provide DOL investigators with greater flexibility in analyzing issues involving unpaid interns on a case-by-case basis.


Continue Reading Labor Department Scraps Unpaid Intern Test and Adopts More Flexible Approach

On January 20, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) issued new guidance on joint employment under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  The guidance marks the third time in recent years that WHD has stressed the broad definition of “employment” under the FLSA, following June 2014 guidance on joint employment in the home health care industry and July 2015 guidance on misclassification of employees as independent contractors.  WHD’s consistent focus reiterates that the agency believes that many workers are classified incorrectly and will focus its enforcement activity on these areas.

Continue Reading DOL Issues Guidance on Its Broad View of Joint Employment

The classification of workers as employees or independent contractors is an ongoing headache for employers.  Different government agencies use different tests to determine a worker’s status.  The one thing the tests have in common is that they are subjective: two people applying the same test to the same worker will often reach different conclusions about the worker’s status.  Employers face substantial liabilities under tax provisions, employee benefit plans, workplace rules, overtime requirements, and other laws if they misclassify an employee as an independent contractor.
Continue Reading Labor Department Addresses Worker Misclassification

The Department of Labor has proposed a rule (available here) that would significantly increase the minimum salary threshold required to qualify for the FLSA’s so-called “white collar” exemptions for executive, administrative, and professional employees. The finalized rule is expected to take effect in 2016.

The current salary threshold, set in 2004, is $455 per

In two closely watched cases, the Second Circuit has ruled that the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) does not preclude the waiver of class action claims (known technically as “collective actions” under the FLSA). In decisions issued on August 9th and 12th, the Second Circuit reversed lower court rulings that had refused to enforce individual arbitration agreements signed by the plaintiffs.  Instead, the appeals court sent the cases back to the district courts with instructions to compel the plaintiffs to honor their agreements with their employers and to submit their FLSA overtime disputes to separate, individual arbitration proceedings.

Following the Supreme Court’s recent decision in American Express Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant, 133 S. Ct. 2304 (2013), the Second Circuit in Sutherland v. Ernst & Young, case no. 12-cv-304, rejected the plaintiff’s arguments that the FLSA contained a “contrary congressional command” barring waivers of class arbitration, and, further, that the plaintiff could not “effectively vindicate” her rights in an individual arbitration, inasmuch as such a proceeding would be “prohibitively expensive.”  In Raniere et al. v. Citigroup Inc. et al., case no. 11-cv-5213, the Second Circuit issued the same decision on the same basis.
Continue Reading Individual Arbitration Agreements Held to Preclude Class Actions under FLSA

Corporate lawyers negotiating asset purchase agreements believe strongly in the concept of freedom of contract.  Asset purchase agreements invariably have carefully crafted provisions dictating which assets and liabilities transfer to the buyer and which assets and liabilities remain with the seller.

Unfortunately, when it comes to employee and employee benefit liabilities, courts don’t always respect these carefully written contracts.  Courts are loathe to rule against employees or retirees who have lost certain rights or benefits as a result of a transaction, and an unsuspecting buyer can easily find itself responsible for employee-related liabilities that the buyer thought it had avoided.

In a recent example of this “buyer beware” phenomenon, the 7th Circuit held in Teed v. Thomas & Betts Power Solutions that an asset buyer was on the hook for a $500,000 settlement award for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), even though the buyer expressly disclaimed the liability in the asset purchase agreement.
Continue Reading Buyer Beware: Asset Purchaser Liable for Predecessor’s FLSA Liability