Categories: DOL Enforcement

by Evan Spelfogel

On February 1, 2010, President Barack Obama released his federal budget for the coming fiscal year, including $117 billion for the United States Department of Labor, of which $25 million was set aside expressly to help the DOL combat employee misclassification. This includes, specifically, identifying and litigating against employers that categorize workers as independent contractors when, in fact, they are employees, and that classify as exempt from overtime those employees who do not meet the requirements of the White Collar Exemptions under Part 541 of the Wage and Hour Regulations.

The DOL will use a large portion of these funds to hire hundreds of investigators and other enforcement staff. The new Department of Labor Solicitor, Patricia Smith, will pursue a “Misclassification Initiative” to obtain, for misclassified employees, the wages, overtime pay, unemployment insurance benefits, social security contributions and health, welfare and pension benefits available to employees, but not to independent contractors.

Smith, it should be noted, was most recently Commissioner of Labor in New York State. In that capacity, she publicly identified misclassification as one of the most serious workplace problems today, and created a dedicated taskforce to attack the problem, encompassing representatives from a number of state government agencies, including labor, tax, unemployment insurance, workers compensation and labor relations.

 Now, more than ever, employers must have programs in place to insure the validity of their classification of workers as independent contractors or as exempt from overtime, and must have a clear strategy for handling government audits and enforcement actions. 
Employers should engage in proactive self-audits, in order to seek out and eliminate vulnerability. Companies should take the appropriate first steps to limit liability and protect their businesses, without raising “red flags.” Employers should check their IRS Form 1099s to identify those they have been paying as independent contractors. They should then audit their outside contractor and employee job descriptions, actual job duties and functions, and the degree of day-to-day control exerted by management, to determine who, in fact, is an independent contractor and who is an employee, and whether the employees are exempt or non-exempt under applicable wage and hour tests.
Employers should pay particular attention to matching duties and functions with the requirements for exemption under the managerial/supervisory, administrative and professional white-collar exemptions. Getting the company’s house in order before the government’s “knock on the door” may save time, attorneys fees and the actual and intangible cost of administrative and civil litigation.
The consequences of worker misclassification, both as to independent contractors and overtime exempt employees, may be severe. Individual, class and collective actions concerning workers’ status are proliferating. Companies are facing larger judgments, ramifications and costs, as one case sparks another. The expense to employers can be staggering, including back-pay with interest, liquidated damages, stock options awarded at years-ago, lower prices and legal fees. Misclassification cases are lucrative for plaintiffs’ lawyers, particularly when they can assert class and collective claims and work on a contingent-fee basis. The announcement of additional funds made available to the DOL under the president’s budget and the confirmation of Patricia Smith as Solicitor of the Department of Labor should provide a wake-up call to employers. 
For additional information, please see Mr. Spelfogel’s published article titled: “Misclassification: The Profusion, The Cost, and the Remedy” (NYSBA L&E Newsletter, Vol. 34, No. 1 at page 7, Spring 2009).


Back to Wage and Hour Defense Blog Blog

Search This Blog

Blog Editors

Related Services



Jump to Page


Sign up to receive an email notification when new Wage and Hour Defense Blog posts are published:

Privacy Preference Center

When you visit any website, it may store or retrieve information on your browser, mostly in the form of cookies. This information might be about you, your preferences or your device and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to. The information does not usually directly identify you, but it can give you a more personalized web experience. Because we respect your right to privacy, you can choose not to allow some types of cookies. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings. However, blocking some types of cookies may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer.

Strictly Necessary Cookies

These cookies are necessary for the website to function and cannot be switched off in our systems. They are usually only set in response to actions made by you which amount to a request for services, such as setting your privacy preferences, logging in or filling in forms. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not then work. These cookies do not store any personally identifiable information.

Performance Cookies

These cookies allow us to count visits and traffic sources so we can measure and improve the performance of our site. They help us to know which pages are the most and least popular and see how visitors move around the site. All information these cookies collect is aggregated and therefore anonymous. If you do not allow these cookies we will not know when you have visited our site, and will not be able to monitor its performance.