Eleventh Circuit: Joint Employer Standard Clarified Under the FLSA and Common Law

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August 2, 2018

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In Garcia-Celestino v. Ruiz Harvesting, Inc., the Eleventh Circuit distinguished the joint employer standard under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and common law. Each standard turns on the applicable definition of “employee” and “control,” but are not the same. There, migrant workers under the H-2A visa program filed suit against their employer and a citrus grove owner for minimum wage violations under the FLSA and for breach of their contract, which was based on federal immigration statutes and regulations. The court looked at whether or not the citrus grove owner was a joint employer.

Primarily, the court looked to the common law of agency for the definition of “employer,” because the federal immigration laws applicable to the contract do not expressly define the term “employer.” Specifically, the court looked to the Darden factors. Although the most important factor is the employer’s “right to control the manner and means by which the product is accomplished,” the factors must be balanced and weighed with no one factor being decisive. “Right to control” turns on the degree of supervision, the entrepreneurial interests of the agent, and any other relevant factors, not the work itself, which is what forms the basis of the FLSA’s definition of “employ.” Thus, the FLSA standard is much broader than the common law.

Ultimately, although the citrus grower was a joint employer for purposes of the FLSA, the court stated it did not meet the definition of “employer” under the common law due to its lack of control – it did not determine which implements the workers used, repair or replace workers’ damaged equipment, communicate with the workers while they worked, provide direction to workers if needed, or interfere with the crew assignments. Other Darden factors also supported the absence of an employer relationship. Moreover, although the workers performed their work on the citrus grove, picking fruit was at the heart of the citrus grower’s business, and the grower could assign the workers additional work towards meeting production goals, these factors did not outweigh the others. Employers should take note that multiple joint employer standards may apply, and their relationship under each must be evaluated where applicable.

Action Items

  1. If joint employer status is in doubt, have business operations evaluated to determine potential joint employer status.
  2. Subscribers can call our HR On-Call Hotline at (888) 378-2456 for further assistance.

Disclaimer: This document is designed to provide general information and guidance concerning employment-related issues. It is presented with the understanding that ManagEase is not engaged in rendering any legal opinions. If a legal opinion is needed, please contact the services of your own legal adviser.

© 2018 ManagEase

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