Oil and gas company ConocoPhillips Co. misclassified a group of its oilfield workers as independent contractors in order to avoid paying overtime, according to a class action suit filed in North Dakota.
ConocoPhillips, the case says, contracts with staffing companies to provide it with personnel to work at its oilfields and meet the demands of its many customers. Unfortunately, many of these workers, according to the suit, were compensated on a day-rate basis, misclassified as independent contractors, and didn’t receive time-and-a-half overtime pay for all time worked above 40 hours per week. ConocoPhillips’ “independent contractors,” the case says, were forced to work 12-hour shifts for weeks on end for only a flat daily rate; in fact, the lead plaintiff in the suit claims he worked more than 40 hours every single week of his five-year employment with the defendant.
The suit argues that although ConocoPhillips’ laborers – specifically those holding the titles of “completions supervisor” or “company man” – were formally classified as independent contractors, they were really employees and therefore entitled to overtime pay. From the case:
“ConocoPhillips treated [the lead plaintiff] and all of its workers that it classified as independent contractors and paid a day rate without overtime compensation, as employees and uniformly dictated the pay practices to which [plaintiff] and the putative class members were subjected.”
The suit claims that the defendant’s classification of its workers is improper because the oil company exerts a great deal of control over its staff, the work isn’t specialized or unique, and the laborers have little investment in their jobs. From the case:
“Virtually every job function was pre-determined by ConocoPhillips and/or its clients, including the tools to use at a job site, the data to compile, the schedule of work, and related work duties. The Putative Class Members were prohibited from varying their job duties outside of the predetermined parameters.”
In addition, many of the workers allegedly worked exclusively for the defendant and were prohibited from working for other companies while at ConocoPhillips. The case claims that such a restriction runs afoul of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires independent contractors to be established in an independent trade or business and free of control by their employer.
The suit requests ConocoPhillips pay the back wages owed to the class, along with liquidated damages equal to their unpaid compensation.