One common “joint employer” allegation which has been regularly rejected by courts is that a regional cable provider is a joint employer of its installation subcontractors’ employees or contractor installers, due to the alleged business or operational control the cable provider exerts over the subcontractor in how installation work is performed. A Missouri court recently joined the numerous other courts rejecting such claims. Thornton v. Charter Communs., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135523 (E.D. Mo. Sept. 25, 2014).
In Thornton, the plaintiffs argued that “the ‘economic reality’ of the relationship between Charter and [its subcontractor] [demonstrated that] the entities were in fact partners who jointly engaged in an employment relationship with plaintiffs under the FLSA . . . [due to Charter’s] extensive quality control procedures and the provisions of the Agreement between [subcontractor] and Charter.” Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh, Jr. rejected this argument along similar analytical lines to prior judges considering the issue (see, e.g., Lawrence v. Adderley Indus., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14386 (E.D.N.Y. Feb. 11, 2011)), noting the absence of “formal control factors” such as the power to hire and fire and the supervision of work.
The joint employer debate is unlikely to subside anytime soon. All businesses must be attuned to this issue and take proper remedial measures to bolster a legal defense if a claim is made.