Labor Law Update: Independent Contractor Status

The National Labor Relations Board has “redefined” the test it uses for determining whether workers performing services for an employer are to be considered employees, who are covered by the National Labor Relations Act, or independent contractors, who are not.  The case is FedEx Home Delivery, 361 NLRB No. 55 (2014). This is a significant decision because of its broad application in labor law in determining the status of workers in both representation cases and in unfair labor practice cases.

The Board took the opportunity in this case to make some key legal points about the evidence of economic opportunity for gain or loss from the perspective of the worker:

(1)  The multifactor test articulated in the Restatement (Second) of Agency § 220 (1958) has traditionally been employed by the NLRB and the courts in making and reviewing employee/independent contractor determinations under the NLRA. The Board stated that it would simply consider entrepreneurial opportunity along with the Restatement factors, but would not grant it overriding “animating” importance, as it accused the DC Circuit of doing.

(2)  The Board further held that any claimed entrepreneurial opportunity of the individuals in question must be real, not merely theoretical.  The Board will look at employer imposed and other structural factors which act as an impediment to the genuine existence of entrepreneurial opportunity.  Further, in representation cases, the Board will consider evidence regarding only the individuals in question (here, those in a requested bargaining unit), and not system wide or extra-unit evidence.  (It is to be expected that a similar limitation will be imposed in unfair labor practice proceedings where no bargaining unit issue is in play.)

(3)  Finally, Board said that it will look at the work being done by the individuals in question and ask whether they are truly performing it in the same way as a bona fide independent business would.