A company that contracted to provide gate attendants for oil fields has won its battle with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) over whether the workers are employees or independent contractors. The decision represents a big loss for the DOL, which sought repayment of more than $6 million in back wages—and has engaged in a nationwide campaign to force more employers to recognize independent contractors as employees.
Recent case: Gate Guard Services contracts with about 400 gate attendants who log in vehicles entering and leaving oil field operation sites. Those gate attendants must ensure that the gate is manned either 12 or 24 hours per day, depending on the location.
Most gate attendants live at the gate site during their assignments, usually in campers or RVs that they purchase on their own and maintain themselves. Gate attendants are paid between $100 and $175 per day and only work a few hours each day actually checking vehicles in.
The rest of the time, they are free to do as they please as long as they remain on site. They may engage in other businesses, practice hobbies, have their families and pets live with them and generally have no restrictions on their time when no one is checking in or out.
The DOL sued Gate Guard Services, claiming the workers should have been paid minimum wage for each hour they were technically on duty.
The total tab added up to $6 million.
The court disagreed after carefully looking at duties, the amount of control the company exerted and how, in reality, the job was structured. It had no trouble concluding that the company exercised so little control over the independent gate attendants that they were not employees. (Gate Guard v. Solis, No. 10-91, SD TX, 2013)
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