The Department of Labor (DOL) has found that a federal contractor hired by the United States government to combat “some of the nation’s worst wildfires” failed to properly compensate dozens of firefighters and truck drivers in violation of several federal statutes and DOL regulations. The violations occurred between June 2019 and October 2021 when these workers were deployed to fight large wildland firefighters in Washington, Oregon, California, and Arizona. The DOL found that a total of 57 firefighters and truck drivers working for KL Farms/Fire LLC, a federal contractor that provided personnel and equipment used to extinguish large wildfires were misclassified as independent contractors.
According to the U.S. DOL’s Wage and Hour Division District Director Carrie Aguilar, the DOL has seen an uptick in violations like the ones found in this investigation. The DOL is attributing this increase partly due to the unpredictable nature of fighting wildfires. Employers likely find it easier to classify firefighters and other support personnel deployed to large scale wildfire incidents as independent contractors instead of employees. These deployments can last as short as a few days or as long as a few months depending on the severity of the incident.
Treating contract firefighters and support personnel as independent contractors is appealing to employers, since independent contractors are not eligible for any of the wage and hour or overtime benefits required under the FLSA or most other federal workplace protection statutes. However, whether a worker is an independent contractor of an employee is not determined by an employer’s desire to keep things simple or cheap.
Whether a worker is an independent contractor, or an employee requires a careful examination of the specific facts and circumstances surrounding any “potential” employment relationship. The U.S. Supreme Court has identified the following factors as relevant in reaching a determination:
- The extent to which the services rendered are an integral part of the principal’s business.
- The permanency of the relationship.
- The amount of the alleged contractor’s investment in facilities and equipment.
- The nature and degree of control by the principal.
- The alleged contractor’s opportunities for profit and loss.
- The amount of initiative, judgment, or foresight in open market competition with others required for the success of the claimed independent contractor.
- The degree of independent business organization and operation.
Click here for more on the Independent Contractor Test from the DOL.
Click here for the DOL’s press release.