Courts in the U.S. have been grappling with the misclassification of independent contractors for more than 20 years. As our readers well know, there is no standardized test to determine whether a worker is a contractor. Various courts and government agencies all have adopted their own criteria. Fortunately, most of them overlap, but there can be critical differences in the factors and how they are applied. In 2015, the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) firmly supported the “economic realities” test as part of a government sponsored misclassification initiative. While not breaking new ground by adopting the test, the DOL’s pronouncement did create somewhat of a splash at the time because it deliberately downplayed the relative importance of control over a worker – which previously had been viewed as the most important aspect of the contracting relationship. See Administrator’s Interpretation No. 2015-1 (July 15, 2015). In the years since its issuance, the DOL’s advisory opinion largely has been sidestepped by several tribunals charged with examining the issue in favor of their own well-worn standards. A decision by the Seventh Circuit last week, Simpkins v. DuPage Housing Authority, appears to be the latest in that trend. In the case, Anthony Simpkins dutifully signed “independent contractor agreements” with the DuPage Housing Authority, in 2009 and again in 2012, to perform general labor, such as carpentry, maintenance, demolition and remodeling, on some vacant properties to get them ready for new occupants. This was a full time job, but provided no benefits and Simpkins was responsible for his own taxes. While the housing authority claimed he had the discretion on how to perform the job as he saw fit, the housing authority directed him on which jobs to perform and prioritized the order in which he would need to complete them. Simpkins objected to his status and repeatedly asked to be reclassified as an employee so he could get benefits, but his efforts were rebuffed. After Simpkins was injured in a car accident, he filed suit to recover unpaid overtime and disability benefits under the FLSA, as well as under Illinois state law. The district court agreed with the housing authority that Simpkins was a contractor and granted summary judgment. On appeal, however, the Seventh Circuit reversed. The court’s analysis began by refocusing on the factors it previously had advocated in Sec’y of Labor, U.S. Dep’t of Labor v. Lauritzen, 835 F.2d 1529, 1534 (7th Cir. 1987), which long ago adopted the same “economic realities” test embraced by the DOL in 2015. The factors included:
- The nature and degree of the alleged employer’s control as to the manner in which the work is to be performed;
- The alleged employee's opportunity for profit or loss depending upon his managerial skill;
- The alleged employee's investment in equipment or materials required for his task, or his employment of workers;
- Whether the service rendered requires a special skill;
- The degree of permanency and duration of the working relationship;
- The extent to which the service rendered is an integral part of the alleged employer’s business.