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Dear David: Who's the Boss?

Dear David is available to answer your workplace questions.

Who's the Boss? is a cross-post from Working America’s Dear David workplace advice column. David knows you deserve to be treated fairly on the job and he’s available to answer your questions, whether it is co-workers making off-handed comments that you should retire or you feel like your job's long hours are causing stress.


I was on unemployment insurance (UI) for a long time and finally got hired, but only part time (the employer wanted to avoid paying medical benefits for full-time workers). I continued to file UI low earnings reports, but the employer was very slow to report my earnings. It was unclear who my employer actually was, too. Was it the company I worked for or the corporate HR firm it contracted out to?

—Longing for more, Hawaii


Time was, you knew who your boss was and whom you had to go to for matters like these. For too many workers today, understanding who ACTUALLY is responsible as the employer has become a sick corporate version of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” only this one is a game in which the rules are written by the employer, and the way that it wins is to create as much distance between it and you as possible.

If you need a distraction, here’s a much more fun version of this game: get from Kevin Bacon to any one of the 2013 Oscar nominees for best actor or actress in no more than one step. Making (Hugh) miserable? If you feel like cheating, you can go here to figure it out.

Your situation, though, is no game. The question of who someone’s legal employer is can be a tricky question to answer, and employers far too often seek to take advantage of the murkiness in the law to avoid their legal obligations, such as through the use of staffing agencies or by misclassifying employees as “independent contractors.”  Determining who your employer is requires a case-by-case analysis, and the definition differs slightly from state to state and under different laws. The general test under federal law is one of “economic realities,” looking at various factors to determine whether an employment relationship exists

Workplace “distancing” does not have to become the status quo. The first step is to know that this is happening. If you are thinking about organizing at your workplace, a good start is to research who your employer actually is. Here’s an interesting case to watch.

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