‘Worker misclassification’ seen as growing threat by contractors, unions in the Region

Andrew Steele
Sep 3, 2017

As companies strive to increase profits amid a changing economy and consumer habits, the discussion often centers on challenges posed by the “gig economy” and its impact on work and employment.

Upstart companies like the Uber ride-sharing service tend to be the focus of concern; recent reports of such companies’ drivers speaking out against perceived company efforts to trim their pay bear this out.

But the growing use of short-term contracts in industries such as construction is threatening traditional employment in a way some say has reached a critical phase.

The fight is over what’s commonly called “employee misclassification” – or payroll fraud, in the view of unions and contractors. It involves an employer hiring workers as freelancing contractors who should be full-time employees, thereby allowing the employer to avoid paying payroll taxes, and worker’s compensation and unemployment insurance premiums, among other costs.

“It’s a problem that’s been around for many decades,” said Dewey Pearman, executive director of the Construction Advancement Foundation of Northwest Indiana. “But it’s becoming epidemic.”

Officials with the Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters visit job sites frequently to talk to carpenters, said Scott Cooley, senior representative at the union’s local headquarters. He said he often talks to contract workers who he believes should be formal employees.

“We run into it all the time,” Cooley said. “It’s just a regular occurrence.”
Some workers in question receive a federal 1099 form at the end of the year, but others aren’t reported at all, and are just paid cash for their work.

‘No magic’ in defining employment

Classifying employees properly isn’t an exact science. It involves several variables, including the degree of company control over the employee; the financial arrangement, including who provides tools and supplies; whether there are benefits such as a pension and insurance; and whether work performed is a key component of the business’ activity.
The Internal Revenue Service lists 20 factors to consider, and states in its guidance on the matter that “there is no ‘magic’ or set number of factors that ‘makes’ the worker an employee or an independent contractor.”

But contractors and the carpenters’ union say some building projects are rife with contract workers who clearly are misclassified: their hours and duties are assigned by their employer, their tools and supplies are provided, and their work is a core function of the company – all factors that generally make one an employee, not a contract worker, in the eyes of the law.

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Why You Should Care About Compliance

JUL 27, 2017 @ 08:00 AM

As the on-demand economy grows, independent professionals are becoming a larger and more essential part of the workforce. The number of self-employed Americans rose to nearly 41 million in 2017 and is predicted to rise to 47.6 million in just five years. This shift away from traditional employment allows independents to work on their own terms while organizations that engage them fill skills shortage gaps, gain staffing flexibility, and realize lower costs.

Coupled with this growth, however, we’ve seen an increase in federal and state government efforts to combat employees being misclassified as independent contractors. In June, the Department of Labor (DOL) removed the Obama-era guidance about joint employment and independent contractors. While it has been widely reported that this withdrawal does not change the legal responsibilities of employers under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), it may indicate that the current administration is taking a more traditional view of employment relationships, as opposed to past interpretation of these documents that assumed most workers were employees.

We’ve seen the results of these actions in the increase in class-action lawsuits, such as Citigroup’s $325,000 settlement for misclassification of technology workers, Zenefits’ $3.4 million payment to misclassified employees for unpaid overtime, and FedEx’s $228 million settlement for misclassification of delivery drivers.
Lawsuits like these are just one of many very real consequences of misclassification, but avoiding a misclassification suit isn’t the only reason to care about how one should engage independent talent.

Here are three reasons compliance should be top of mind for all organizations that engage independent professionals.

Compliance Aids In Proper Classification

Classification of independent contractors is not a clear-cut process. Federal, state and local government agencies use a variety of tests to determine whether or not a worker is a true independent contractor.

Just because independent contractors call themselves an independent contractor doesn’t mean they are one in the eyes of the law. Independents come from various backgrounds and experience levels and have different levels of self-employability. When engaging independent talent, it’s up to organizations to make a final determination of classification, but because tests vary from agency to agency and because regulations are constantly changing, these decisions can be complex.

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Sep 20, 2016 / by Katherine C. Parris

Employee misclassification causes headaches for both workers and employers, and the federal government and the states are joining hands to ease the pain.

Misclassification often has substantial consequences for all parties involved-employers and workers, as well as the federal government and the states. Misclassifying an employee as an independent contractor may result in denial of minimum wages, overtime compensation, family and medical leave, and unemployment and workplace safety protections. Employers may face costly lawsuits and be liable for unpaid overtime and minimum wages, as well as back pay, court costs and attorneys’ fees.

For these reasons, the Department of Labor is entering into enforcement partnerships with state agencies for “information sharing and coordinated enforcement” in support of its Misclassification Initiative, according to its website.

Joint federal-state efforts likely will continue to play a large role in the future of worker misclassification enforcement as more states enter into formal agreements with the DOL.

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State fines Texas-based construction company $767K for misclassifying workers

Sep 20, 2016, 7:29am HST
Duane Shimogawa

The state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations has fined Texas-based R&R Construction Services $767,095 for the misclassification of its workers as independent contractors that are part of the Maile Sky Court hotel-condominium redevelopment project in Waikiki.

The state said Monday that R&R has 20 days to appeal the citations.

“Law-abiding contractors who pay their fair share face unfair competition, and workers suffer when deprived of their rights and benefits,” Linda Chu Takayama, director of DLIR, said in a statement. “The visitor industry and a pleasant visitor experience is important to Hawaii, but Hawaii’s working people and law-abiding contractors need to benefit fairly.”

R&R allegedly misclassified 65 construction workers as independent contractors and, by doing so, it avoided requirements to provide unemployment, workers compensation, temporary disability and prepaid health care insurances, according to the state.

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WHD News Brief: 08/04/2016
Release Number: 16-1603-NAT

Participants: U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division
Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry

Partnership description: The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division and the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry signed a three-year Memorandum of Understanding intended to protect employees’ rights by preventing their misclassification as independent contractors or other non-employee statuses. The two agencies will provide clear, accurate and easy-to-access outreach to employers, employees and other stakeholders; share resources; and enhance enforcement by conducting coordinated investigations and sharing information consistent with applicable law.

Background: The division is working with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service and 31 other U.S. states to combat employee misclassification and to ensure that workers get the wages, benefits and protections to which they are entitled. Labeling employees as something they are not – such as independent contractors – can deny them basic rights such as minimum wage, overtime and other benefits. Misclassification also improperly lowers tax revenues to federal and state governments, as create losses for state unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation funds.

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WHD News Brief:

Release Number:

U.S. Department of Labor’s
Wage and Hour Division
Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries

Partnership description:
The division and bureau signed a three-year Memorandum of Understanding intended to protect employees’ rights by preventing their misclassification as independent contractors or other non-employee statuses. The two agencies will provide clear, accurate and easy-to-access outreach to employers, employees, and other stakeholders; share resources and enhance enforcement by conducting coordinated investigations and sharing information consistent with applicable law.

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BREAKING: McCrory issues executive order on worker misclassification (NC)

Posted by : Rob Schofield
Friday, December 18, 2015


Gov. McCrory took a step in the right direction this afternoon on the issue of employee misclassification – the persistent problem that plagues thousands of North Carolina businesses wherein workers are improperly treated as contractors when they ought to be employees.  As we have reported on multiple occasions this year (and as Raleigh’s News & Observer documented a while back in its special series “Contract to Cheat,”) this is a huge problem that harms workers and honest businesses and robs the state of tax revenue. Doug Burton, a Triangle area contractor put it this way:

“Treating employees as independent contractors when in fact they are regular employees is a fraudulent business practice that has become an epidemic. Some call this ‘misclassification,’ but it is in fact fraud that lets these cheating businesses – many from out of state – off the hook for basic protections, including minimum wage, overtime pay, workers’ compensation, health and safety protections, unemployment insurance, federal and state tax withholding, social security withholdings and matching and more.

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NY Task Force to Combat Worker Exploitation Gets Boost

October 16, 2015

NEW YORK – Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week announced new measures to advance the state’s Task Force to Combat Worker Exploitation, but advocates are concerned it may not be enough.

The measures include funding to coordinate outreach, investigations and prosecutions, and a new anti-retaliation unit for workers who stand up for their rights. According to Anita Halasz, executive director of Long Island Jobs with Justice, many of the workers who will benefit are immigrants.

“We definitely commend the governor for taking this very important step,” she said, “because, oftentimes, immigrant workers are working in the shadows and are unable to represent themselves.”

Worker advocates, however, are concerned that the additional $700,000 in funding is too little to address the problem of worker exploitation statewide.

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More than $39 million in grants awarded to improve performance, integrity of state unemployment insurance programs and reduce worker misclassification

43 states, District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico receive funding


ETA News Release 9/22/2015
Release Number: 15-1888-NAT

WASHINGTON – More than $39.3 million in federal grants awarded today will enhance unemployment insurance programs in 45 states and territories, and reduce the misclassification of employees as independent contractors, the U.S. Department of Labor announced.

The funding will help prevent and detect improper benefit payments, improve program performance, address outdated information technology systems, and combat employee misclassification that underpays and denies benefits to workers and hurts local economies.

“For more than 80 years, the unemployment insurance system has been a crucial lifeline for millions of working people who lost their job through no fault of their own,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. “These grants will help states use every tool at its disposal to ensure payments are available to those who are eligible, and take important steps to reduce and recover improper payments. The funds will also identify new ways to level the playing field for responsible employers.”

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More than half of states now onboard with feds’ IC misclassification fight

September 08 2015


Vermont signed a three-year memorandum of understanding with the US Department of Labor to fight misclassification of employees as independent contractors – it’s the 26th state to do so, following Alaska in August and Kentucky in July.

“Misclassification deprives workers of their hard earned wages and undercuts businesses that follow the law,” said David Weil, US Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division administrator. “This agreement sends a clear message that we are standing together with the state of Vermont to protect workers and responsible employers.”

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