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Don’t assume temps are independent contractors

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in Compensation and Benefits,Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Some temporary agencies and employee-leasing firms sell their clients on the idea that temp workers won’t be employees of the client. Instead, they will be either independent contractors or employees of the temp agency. Those claims may not hold up in court, because North Carolina has strict tests for who is an employee and who isn’t.

If you assert considerable control over a worker—even one paid and managed by another entity—he or she may be your employee.

Recent case: Omar Sharif Williams, a black network engineer, was hired by Berrett & Associates, an employment placement agency. Berrett in turn placed Williams with Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC).

Workers classified as Berrett employees didn’t go through CSC’s orientation program. They wore badges that identified them as CSC subcontractors and were disciplined and compensated directly by Berrett. They were excluded from CSC employee meetings.

Following several alleged instances of inappropriate behavior, Williams was told he would no longer be allowed to work at CSC offices. Among the alleged infractions: Williams cheered a CSC supervisor’s medical emergency and was caught viewing a sexually suggestive web site on his computer.

He sued, alleging that he was a CSC employee and had been terminated because of racial discrimination. CSC said Williams wasn’t its employee.

In court, Williams and CSC employees described working conditions: CSC set the schedule, provided all tools and equipment, told Williams what tasks he needed to complete and provided deadlines. Plus, he was paid based on the amount of work he did, instead of receiving a flat fee.

Those factors were enough for the court to conclude Williams was employed by both Berrett and CSC. (Williams v. CSC, No. 1:08-CV-41, MD NC, 2010)

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