DOL ‘Joint Employer’ Proposal Would Upend Decades of Worker Protections

Washington, DC—On Monday, April 1st, the Trump Department of Labor issued a proposed rule interpreting the “joint employment” standard. Unfortunately, the proposal is an aggressively anti-worker guidance that signals a blatant disregard for workers in contracted jobs. The following is a statement from Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project:

“For more than a century, the Fair Labor Standards Act has recognized the doctrine of ‘joint employer’ responsibility—the idea that two or more companies can share responsibility for the treatment of their workers. So when a company contracts out work to a staffing firm or other labor subcontractor, it may still share responsibility for the workers, which helps ensure the lead company provides better oversight of and compliance with minimum wage, child labor and overtime protections.

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“But the Trump DOL’s just-issued guidance on joint employment lets large corporations that outsource jobs off the hook, leaving typically smaller and poorly capitalized local businesses holding the bag for violations. The DOL proposal would make it harder for workers to enforce wage and hour laws and will encourage more outsourcing to under-capitalized labor contractors like temp and staffing firms, especially in low-wage sectors such as construction, agriculture, garment, janitorial, home care, delivery and logistics, warehousing, and manufacturing.

“The DOL’s proposal is interpretive only, and lacks the force of law. But this guidance, which illegally circumscribes the scope of the FLSA, will confuse workers, embolden employers to outsource and say they’re not responsible, and potentially dupe courts into thinking that the outsourcing employers aren’t responsible. With this guidance, DOL is indicating that it won’t enforce against many joint employers in the very industries it has prioritized in past years, where low wages, contracted workers, and violations persist.

“The proposal is not reconcilable with the plain statutory definitions in the FLSA, which cover any work that is suffered or permitted by an employer. The current proposal disallows consideration of these terms, and is therefore contrary to law.

“When a subcontractor cannot pay, joint-employer standards ensure that workers have remedies against the contracting company for the legal violations. Workers should be able to recover when cheated out of wages, exposed to dangerous child labor conditions, or otherwise treated unlawfully.”

More Resources on Joint Employer:

Report: Who’s the Boss: Restoring Accountability for Labor Standards in Outsourced Work

Poll: Voters See ‘Contracting Out’ as Serious Problem for America’s Workers and Economy

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