In 2015, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) expanded the joint employer doctrine through its controversial decision in Browning-Ferris Industries of California. The House of Representatives will vote today on the “Save Local Business Act” (SLBA), a recent effort advanced in Congress to re-define the concept of “joint employers” for collective bargaining purposes as well as wage-and-hour, safety, and other employment liability. If passed, the bill would effectively undo Browning-Ferris.
The Browning-Ferris decision broadened the standard used in evaluating joint employment beyond the “direct and immediate” control over the essential terms and conditions of employment. Instead, it created a two-part “indirect control” test for determining “employer” status that examined whether a common law relationship exists with the employee(s) in question and whether the potential employer “possesses sufficient control over employees’ essential terms and conditions of employment to permit meaningful bargaining.” That broadened standard drew significant criticism and caused concern across a variety of industries, as companies that merely had “potential” or “reserved control” to hire, terminate, discipline, supervise, and direct an affiliated company’s employees – but who did not actually exercise that right – could now be liable for various employment claims and collective bargaining requirements.
If passed by Congress and signed into law, the SLBA would limit the extent to which affiliated businesses are considered to be “joint employers” under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Under the SLBA’s proposed terms, a person could be considered a joint employer under the NLRA only where it “directly, actually, and immediately, and not in a limited and routine manner, exercises significant control over the essential terms and conditions of employment” over an employee. The definition of “employer” under the FLSA would also be amended to include a reference to the NLRA’s definition, which is consistent with the Department of Labor’s decision in June 2017 to withdraw prior guidance that applied the broadened joint employer definition to the FLSA.
After the Browning-Ferris decision, franchisees, which typically get standardized training and employment manuals from franchisors, and staffing agencies, which recruit temporary workers for their client companies, feared increased liability under the new joint employer standard. Unsurprisingly, then, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Retail Federation, and the International Franchise Association all support the bill. Opponents argue, however, that the bill would enable wage theft by immunizing unscrupulous employers and would reduce collective bargaining rights of employees.
Until the SLBA becomes law, companies, including those using franchise models and staffing agencies, should be aware of potential liability not only for their own actions, but also for those of any other entity with which they can be determined to be a joint employer. For more information on how to manage these liabilities, please contact one of Frantz Ward LLP’s Staffing Industry attorneys.