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Wine businesses can’t outsource liability for labor practices

Companies in the wine industry should make sure they understand the potential liability they face when they rely on staffing agencies to provide seasonal and contingent workers. Staffing company arrangements are popular in the wine industry. They allow businesses to increase staff as needed and avoid the administrative burden of hiring and laying off employees based on seasonal needs. Often, only a handful of winery employees are full-time, year-round employees.

Outsourcing is not simply a cost-cutting measure — it allows businesses to focus on what they do best. In the last decade, the use of contingent workers has become far more commonplace in many industries. Many U.S. workers have flexible workplace arrangements, as temps, freelancers and contractors. As the so-called “gig” economy develops and evolves, the laws are changing to protect these workers.

Those who use staffing agencies should take particular note of recent trends in joint-employer liability. Federal law has long held that two separate companies may be treated as joint employers if they jointly handle important aspects of the employer-employee relationship for their workers. If a joint-employer relationship is established, either intentionally or unintentionally, both entities are liable for wrongdoing. For example, both companies may be found jointly liable in a lawsuit or administrative proceeding regarding the jointly employed workers’ wages, hours and working conditions.

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