College Athletes Determined to Be Employees By NLRB

Recently, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that the college football players at Northwestern should be considered “employees” of the University and entitled to organize. This decision may have significant implications for college athletes, should the courts also consider the athletes “employees” who may be entitled to overtime pay and other wage and hour protections provided by Federal Labor Law (FLSA).

The FLSA provides basic wage and hour protections to nearly all workers. These protections include minimum wage and entitle non-exempt employees overtime pay at a rate of one and one-half times your standard rate of pay for every hour worked in excess of 40 in any one work week. If you have questions about your compensation, an experienced Georgia wage and hour attorney can address your particular situation and provide you the help you need.

According to the Northwestern University’s football players’ lawsuit, student athletes asserted that they should be considered employees and hence represented by a union. In Northwestern University, NLRB Case No. 13-RC-121359, the Board determined agreed that the players met the definition of who is an employee under the terms of the Act, specifically that an employee is “a person who performs services for another under a contract of hire, subject to the other’s control or right of control, and in return for payment.” Here, an employer/employee relationship exists, according to the decision.

The Board explained that Northwestern’s football program generated significant income and that in exchange, the scholarship players receive tuition, fees, room, board, and books for up to five years, which can total a significant amount of money, as much as $76,000 per calendar year. Over the course of a college athlete’s term at the university, this amount may be upwards of one quarter of a million dollars. In order to receive the scholarship, the players must sign a “tender,” which is essentially a contract setting forth the conditions under which a player will get paid.

The Board also looked at the issue of control – a question that is also important in wage and hour cases under the FLSA. Independent contractors are generally not entitled to the same protections as employees. In Northwestern, the coaches’ exhibited “strict and exacting control” over the players throughout the entire year, including over their personal lives. Taken as a whole, these factors pointed to the creation of an employment arrangement, the Board determined.

It’s too soon to tell the ramifications of this decision on various employment laws such as the FLSA, and how college athletes should be treated. However, such decision is an important step in protecting many athletes.

As Atlanta wage and hour attorneys, we are dedicated to ensuring all workers receive the pay they deserve. If you believe that you have been subjected to unfair working conditions and deprived of minimum wage or overtime pay please contact our dedicated wage and hour lawyers at Buckley Bala Wilson Mew LLP to fight for you.