According to a WHD News Release (11/18/13), officials of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, the New York State Labor Department and the New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s Office have signed memoranda of understanding to protect the rights of employees by preventing their misclassification as independent contractors or other nonemployee statuses.
According to the News Release, the memoranda of understanding represent a new effort on the part of the three agencies to work together to protect the rights of employees and level the playing field for responsible employers by reducing the practice of misclassification. The New York State Labor Department and New York State Attorney General’s Office are the latest state agencies to partner with the Labor Department. In the last two years, the Wage Hour Division has secured over $18.2 million in back wages for more than 19,000 workers where the primary reason for minimum wage or overtime violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act was that workers were not treated or classified as employees. This represents a 97 percent increase in back wages following the implementation of these agreements.
The News Release adds the following:
Business models that attempt to change or obscure the employment relationship through the use of independent contractors are not inherently illegal, but they may not be used to evade compliance with federal labor law. Although legitimate independent contractors are an important part of our economy, the misclassification of employees presents a serious problem, as these employees often are denied access to critical benefits and protections-such as family and medical leave, overtime compensation, minimum wage pay and Unemployment Insurance-to which they are entitled. In addition, misclassification can create economic pressure for law-abiding business owners, who often find it difficult to compete with those who are skirting the law.
Memoranda of understanding with state government agencies arose as part of the department’s Misclassification Initiative, with the goal of preventing, detecting and remedying employee misclassification. California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Utah and Washington have signed similar agreements. More information is available on the Department of Labor’s misclassification website at http://www.dol.gov/misclassification/.