In a recent ruling, the National Labor Relations Board has adopted a new standard regarding joint employers. Joint employers is a relatively new creation in the area of labor and employment law. Joint employers, as the name suggests, refers to separate employers both being employers of the same employee. Many years ago, I worked on a case in which a large office supply house contracted out its drivers to a third party. One day the drivers worked for Acme Office Supply. The next day, they worked for Speedy Delivery Service. Based on many factors, the drivers were eventually found to be employees of both entities. Yet, both entities had completely different ownership structures.

That situation was more apparent. It was obvious the large office supply company was trying to avoid liability when it switched to a third party. And, since the large office supply business still actually supervised the drivers in every way, it was easy to see that Acme Office Supply was still an employer, at least in part. But, what if Speedy Delivery hired some of the old drivers, but not all? What if Speedy Delivery had its own human resources department? And, what if Acme had some employees on-site, but so did Speedy Delivery? That is much like the case in Browning-Ferris Industries, 362 NLRB 186 (8/27/2015). BFI operated a recycling center. BFI hired and supervised the employees who worked outside the center. But, to perform the functions of sorting and cleaning the items inside the center, BFI contracted with Leadpoint Business Services. The chief Leadpoint person reports to his corporate office in Arizona.

The Board noted that the common law test for joint employers up to now has focused on control. Who controls the employee? If both entities control, then both entities are employers. The Board then looked to the test for independent contractors, which does look at who may control the employee, not necessarily who actually does control the employee. There was some evidence that BFI exercised control over some Leadpoint employees. But, the Regional Director found these instances were too infrequent to establish control. The national level Board, however, focused not on actual control but on the degree to which the second entity could control. So, the Board by a 3-2 vote, decided that no longer will it be necessary to show that the second entity must actually exercise that authority which it possesses over the employee. Browning-Ferris, at p. 15-16 (slip opinion).

The Board then noted that BFI though its agreement with Leadpoint, possessed “significant” control over who Leadpoint hired. Although BFI did not participate in Leadpoint’s day-to-day hiring decisions, it “codetermined” the outcome of that process by imposing specific conditions on Leadpoint’s ability to make hiring decisions. Even after Leadpoint has determined that an applicant meets the required qualifications, BFI still retains the authority to reject that employee “for any or no reason.” BFI retained the authority to “discontinue” any of the personnel assigned by Leadpoint. Two BFI managers testified that BFI has never discontinued any employee or has ever been involved in discipline. But, said the Board, two such incidents occurred in which BFI requested the immediate dismissal of two workers.

So, the Board determined that BFI was mis-leading. Prevarication to a tribunal always leads to problems for that entity.

The Board also found that BFI exercised indirect control over the speed and methods of Leadpoint’s work. The speed of the conveyor belts has been a source of constant tension between BFI and Leadpoint. Apparently on their own, BFI personnel have coached Leadpoint personnel on how to work smarter, faster – with no apparent involvement of Leadpoint managers. Since BFI retained “ultimate control” over the sorting and sifting lines, the Board found it difficult to see how Leadpoint could bargain with a union over issues involving work speed and breaks. BFI also assigned work positions, and assigned specific tasks that need to be completed. It dictated the number of workers needed and the timing of the work shifts.

Regarding wages, BFI played a significant role in the rates of pay and how the Leadpoint workers were paid. Under the terms of the agreement, Leadpoint may not pay its employees more than BFI pays its employees.

So, yes, this decision is possibly far-reaching. The standard for many principles of employment and contract law start with NLRB decisions. If the NLRB finds that indirect control is “control” for purposes of the National Labor Relations Act, then that certainly could spread to other employment statutes. The other day, I heard one reporter say this could affect franchises and their corporate headquarters. Yes, indeed. If McDonald’s requires its franchisees to establish certain work schedules, pay certain wages and even positions the workers in the work area, then that would certainly make them a joint employer of the local McDonald’s employees. See decision here.

This is a 3-2 decision. That means when the next President comes into office and points his two new members of the board, this decision could change. But, until then, we have a very new standard that will change the outcome of many cases. This decision is a game;changer.