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Insight A Partner May be an Employee for Equal Employment Opportunity Laws

The fact that a person has the title of partner does not mean that he or she cannot be an employee for purposes of equal employment opportunity claims. Last month, the EEOC issued two informal discussion letters reiterating this in the context of accounting firm partners and age claims.

In these two letters, the EEOC asserts that it is “well established” that an individual with the title of “partner” can sometimes qualify as an employee for purposes of the equal employment opportunity laws and that there is no presumption that a person with the “partner” title is never an employee. The letters explain that the “question is whether the individual acts independently and participates in managing the organization (not an employee), or whether the individual is subject to the organization’s control (an employee).” The letters also identify six “non-exhaustive factors” to be used to answer this question:

  • Whether the organization can hire or fire the individual or set the rules and regulations of the individual’s work
  • Whether and, if so, to what extent the organization supervises the individual’s work
  • Whether the individual reports to someone higher in the organization
  • Whether and, if so, to what extent the individual is able to influence the organization
  • Whether the parties intended that the individual be an employee, as expressed in written agreements or contracts
  • Whether the individual shares in the profits, losses, and liabilities of the organization

So remember, just because someone is called a partner does not mean that he or she will not be deemed an employee by the EEOC. Two informal discussion letters from the EEOC can be found here and here.

If you need assistance or have questions, please contact our employment group or call 208.344.6000.

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