Employment Relationship Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

This fact sheet provides general information concerning the meaning of “employment relationship” and the significance of that determination in applying provisions of the FLSA.

Characteristics of Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

An employment relationship under the Fair Labor Standards Act FLSA must be distinguished from a strictly contractual one. Such a relationship must exist for any provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act FLSA to apply to any person engaged in work which may otherwise be subject to the Act. In the application of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) an employee, as distinguished from a person who is engaged in a business of his or her own, is one who, as a matter of economic reality, follows the usual path of an employee and is dependent on the business which he or she serves. The employer-employee relationship under the FLSA is tested by “economic reality” rather than “technical concepts.” It is not determined by the common law standards relating to master and servant.

The U.S. Supreme Court has on a number of occasions indicated that there is no single rule or test for determining whether an individual is an independent contractor or an employee for purposes of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The Court has held that it is the total activity or situation which controls. Among the factors which the Court has considered significant are:

1. The extent to which the services rendered are an integral part of the principal’s business.
2. The permanency of the relationship.
3. The amount of the alleged contractor’s investment in facilities and equipment.
4. The nature and degree of control by the principal.
5. The alleged contractor’s opportunities for profit and loss.
6. The amount of initiative, judgment, or foresight in open market competition with others required for the success of the claimed independent contractor.
7. The degree of independent business organization and operation.

There are certain factors which are immaterial in determining whether there is an employment relationship. Such facts as the place where work is performed, the absence of a formal employment agreement, or whether an alleged independent contractor is licensed by State/local government are not considered to have a bearing on determinations as to whether there is an employment relationship. Additionally, the Supreme Court has held that the time or mode of pay does not control the determination of employee status.


When it has been determined that an employer-employee relationship does exist, and the employee is engaged in work that is subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), it is required that the employee be paid at least the Federal minimum wage, — $5.15 an hour effective 9/1/97 — and in most cases time and one-half his/her regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 per week. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) also has child labor provisions which regulate the employment of minors under the age of eighteen, as well as record keeping requirements.

Typical Problems (1) One of the most common problems is in the construction industry where contractors hire so-called independent contractors, who in reality should be considered employees because they do not meet the tests for independence, as stated above. (2) Franchise arrangements can pose problems in this area as well. Depending on the level of control the franchisor has over the franchisee, employees of the latter may be considered to be employed by the franchisor. (3) A situation involving a person volunteering his or her services for another may also result in an employment relationship. For example, a person who is an employee cannot “volunteer” his/her services to the employer to perform the same type service performed as an employee. Of course, individuals may volunteer or donate their services to religious, public service, and non-profit organizations, without contemplation of pay, and not be considered employees of such organization. (4) Trainees or students may also be employees, depending on the circumstances of their activities for the employer. (5) People who perform work at their own home are often improperly considered as independent contractors. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) covers such homeworkers as employees and they are entitled to all benefits of the law.

Where To Obtain Additional Information about Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

This publication is for general information and is not to be considered in the same light as official statements of position contained in the regulations.

For additional information, visit our Wage-Hour website: http://www.wagehour.dol.gov and/or call our Wage-Hour toll-free information and helpline, available 8am to 5pm in your time zone, 1-866-4USWAGE (1-866-487-9243).

Source: U.S. Department of Labor