The Supreme Court and The Debate Over Joint Employment

On January 8th of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition for certiorari to take another look at the case of DirecTV, LLC v. Hall. The issue in this case was whether or not the Fourth Circuit misinterpreted the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which ultimately decides minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, youth employment, and other employment issues. The FSLA issue the Supreme Court declined to hear is joint employment.

The U.S. Department of Labor recognizes a relationship of joint employment “when an employee is employed by two (or more) employers such that the employers are responsible, both individually and jointly, to the employee for compliance with a statute.” Joint employment typically exists when an employee has two or more related or associated employers, or when one employer provides labor to another employer, and the workers are economically dependent on both employers.

The definition of joint employment under the FLSA was brought into question in the case of DirecTV LLC, v. Hall, in which the plaintiffs alleged that the defendants are jointly liable for violating the FLSA. The pleadings were originally dismissed on the grounds that the plaintiffs failed to prove that the plaintiffs, DirecTV and DirectSat are joint employers. It was later decided by the Fourth Circuit that the plaintiffs brought “sufficient facts” to claim that the defendants jointly employed the plaintiffs as DirecTV technicians and that they can be held jointly and severally liable for failing to provide plaintiffs with uncompensated overtime work.

After the Fourth Circuit’s decision in January of last year, the defendant, DirecTV, attempted to bring the matter to the Supreme Court by filing a petition for certiorari. They claimed that the Fourth Circuit disregarded the standard test for determining joint employment and used their own test. Factors that have typically defined a joint employer relationship include whether the employer:

  • has the right to hire or fire the employee
  • pays or sets the employee’s pay
  • maintains employment records for the employee
  • controls the terms and conditions of the employee’s employment, either formally or informally

In this case, the Fourth Circuit found that the plaintiffs were not independent contractors, but employees, because they were economically dependent on the defendants. The defendants argued for a writ of certiorari claiming that the Fourth Circuit did not follow any other precedent set by any other court on this issue or try to meet the elements of the above test. It has been determined in other cases that in order to qualify as a joint employer, an employer “need not exercise its authority or control over employees’ terms and conditions of employment—the reservation of the authority or the possession of or right to that authority would be sufficient.”

The defendants hoped the Supreme Court would “restore uniformity” on this matter and follow precedents set by previous cases to define joint employment. However, the Supreme Court allowed the Fourth Circuit’s decision to persist, as it denied DirecTV’s petition for certiorari and remained indifferent on the issue of joint employment.

Ambiguities of joint employment can cause issues when it comes to payroll, employee’s rights, and an employee’s conditions for employment. Steven Mitchell Sack is an experienced employment lawyer who can help clarify some of these issues for you and ensure your rights are not being infringed upon. For more information or schedule a consultation, call (917) 371-8000.

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