What Happens When an Employer Willfully Misclassifies a Worker as an Independent Contractor Instead of an Employee

Regrettably, employee misclassifications occur all too frequently. Sometimes, they may be the result of good-faith errors. Other times, though, the employer knew (or should have known) that it was not following the law. When that happens, you can seek a finding in your unpaid overtime case that your employer willfully violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, which can greatly enhance the compensation you can receive. If you think your employer willfully broke the law, you need an experienced Atlanta unpaid overtime lawyer to help you get everything to which the law entitles you.

J.M. was one of those people. She worked for a company that provided “in-home healthcare and companion services.” According to her lawsuit, J.M. frequently worked more than 80 hours a week. However, she received only $1,500 per month for her work. The employer allegedly never paid J.M. any overtime for any of the hours she worked.

The employer did this by classifying J.M. as an independent contractor rather than an employee. J.M.’s lawsuit asserted that her independent contractor status was a misclassification, that the employer knew (or ought to have known) it was a misclassification, and that the employer willfully violated the FLSA.

The trial judge agreed with the worker. In deciding a worker misclassification case, the law directs the courts to look at the six factors of the “economic realities” test. Those factors, as outlined in a 2013 11th Circuit Court of Appeals case (Scantland v. Jeffry Knight, Inc.) are: “(1) the nature and degree of the alleged employer’s control over the alleged employee’s work; (2) the alleged employee’s opportunity for profit or loss depending on her managerial skill; (3) the alleged employee’s investment in equipment or materials and employment of other workers; (4) whether the alleged employee’s services required a special skill; (5) the permanency and duration of the working relationship; and (6) the extent to which the service rendered is an integral part of the alleged employer’s business.”

According to the court, five of the six factors tipped in J.M.’s favor. The company issued J.M. a handbook and required her to follow many of the rules contained in it. Additionally, J.M. had extensive reporting requirements that the company demanded of workers like her, all of which indicated that the company maintained considerable control over the worker’s work.

J.M. received a company-set rate of $1,500 for each month she worked with a customer. She had no say in that rate and had no meaningful opportunity for profit or risk of loss. J.M. entered the job with no special skills and she received many hours of specialized training from the company. Given that J.M. maintained her work with the company for more than three years, the degree of permanency also favored a finding of employee status. Home healthcare workers like J.M. were an “integral part” of the company’s business which also pointed toward employee status.

The Company Had Engaged in Similar Misclassifications in the Past

What was more, though, was that the court found that the company’s error was a willful one. A finding of willfulness by the employer can be a huge help in an FLSA lawsuit, as it may extend the period for which you can recover compensation (from two years to three) and can entitle you to receive “liquidated damages,” which essentially amounts to doubling the amount of damages you prove.

The key evidence of willfulness was that the company had been in trouble with the federal government before based upon very similar violations. In 2007 and in the mid-teens, the U.S. Labor Department found that the company was improperly classifying home healthcare workers and support coaches as independent contractors when they really were employees. “Considering these two investigations, Defendants had reason to know that they were violating the FLSA by failing to pay Plaintiff overtime wages,” the court wrote in finding that the violation was willful.

Any unpaid overtime or minimum wage case is worth approaching with everything you can muster, and that’s especially true if your case involves some additional element, like an employer who willfully violated the law. When it comes time to go to court, look to the knowledgeable Atlanta unpaid overtime attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert. Our attorneys know the law top to bottom and are highly experienced in handling these cases and getting our clients everything the law says they should receive. Contact us through this website or at 404-873-8048 to schedule a consultation.

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