Protections enjoyed by New Jersey employees under federal, state, and, in many areas, local employment statutes include minimum wage, overtime pay, and prohibitions on discrimination and workplace harassment. Legal protections for independent contractors, on the other hand, are mostly limited to the provisions of the contract between that individual and the employer. Wrongfully classifying an employee as an independent contractor violates federal law and can lead to damages for the misclassified worker. The exact definition of an “employee” varies from one state to another. This can complicate claims that cover multiple states. The New Jersey class representatives in an ongoing misclassification lawsuit have formally objected to a proposed settlement, arguing that it fails to account for specific New Jersey statutes and caselaw. In re FedEx Ground Package System, Inc. Emp’t Practices Litig., No. 3:05-cv-00595, objection (N.D. Ind., Nov. 14, 2016), see also No. 3:05-md-00527 (MDL).
The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., sets minimum wage and overtime standards, and it also allows civil claims for misclassification. It defines an “employee,” with some exceptions, as “any individual employed by an employer.” Id. at § 203(e)(1). Since this definition is not especially helpful in adjudicating misclassification claims, courts look at state law to determine whether a claimant is an employee or an independent contractor.
New Jersey defines “employee” very broadly in the context of misclassification laws, thanks to a recent New Jersey Supreme Court ruling, Hargrove v. Sleepy’s, LLC, 106 A.3d 449 (N.J. 2015). The court adopted the “ABC test,” which is based on provisions found in the New Jersey Unemployment Compensation Act. An individual is an “employee” under the ABC test unless they meet three criteria: (1) they are “free from control or direction over the performance of” their jobs by the employer; (2) their job is either “outside the [employer’s] usual course of…business” or “performed outside of all the [employer’s] places of business”; and (3) the individual’s job is part of their “independently established trade, occupation, profession or business.” N.J.S.A. §§ 43:21-19(i)(6)(A) – (C).