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As referenced in the cases and articles assigned this week, the definition of the employer-employee relationship is subject to interpretation. Moreover, the way employers and employees interact in the workplace initiates productivity, conflict, and controversy.

How can HRM professionals help define roles and responsibilities associated with the employer-employee relationship to enable a productive workplace? Use real-life examples, if at all possible.

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It is recommended that you identify the main argument and decision of all of these cases by reading the abstract for each case. Then select one case to analyze using the IRAC method.

Definition of Employee

These articles are less than two pages each and illustrate different scenarios that are used to determine the definition of who is an employee.


Legal Background: Employer and Employee

“Master”! We don’t like the word. It is not American! But what is the use of objecting to the word when we have the thing? The man who gives me employment, which I must have or suffer, that man is my master, let me call him what I will.

— Henry George

A novice law student in a law clinic is listening to a professor lecture about legal due process. The professor is using the metaphor of a train ride. She states that along the track, there are numerous ways to get a client off the legal train or derail it altogether. The last stop on the train is legal action. By working together, attorneys and HRM professionals can help employers and employees disembark before this last stop.

The HRM professional has the advantage of workplace access. He can manage aspects of the employer-employee relationship to prevent workplace issues from escalating to a point where legal counsel or intervention is necessary. Again, invoking the legal train metaphor, the HRM professional has opportunities to keep the employer off the train and prevent the train from ever leaving the station.

It is important to remember that while our journey through employment law focuses on conflict and dispute, the courts have struggled to find a satisfying definition of the employer-employee relationship. Black’s Law Dictionary provides a concise and arguably accurate definition. Black’s defines an employer as “One who employs the services of others; one for whom employees work and who pays their wages or salaries.” The employee is defined in Black’s as being “a person in the service of another under any contract of hire, express or implied, oral or written, where the employer has the power or right to control and direct the employee in the material details of how the work is to be performed.” Black’s cites Riverbend Country Club v. Patterson (1965) as the source of this definition.

To the attorney, the definition of the employer-employee relationship is significant for several reasons. This definition helps the attorney to determine the employer’s rights and responsibilities and to advise on legal responsibilities of the relationship. The definition of the employer-employee relationship is also a point of strategy in litigation. The attorney may argue that, according to this definition, the duties and responsibilities of the employer were not in effect and no applicable law was breached. The employment attorney may try to negotiate a settlement. She may try to get a case dismissed because the complainant is not officially an employee, or does not fall under the protection of a particular statute.

In legal actions, it may be argued that there is no case because the aggrieved party is not considered to be an employee, but rather an independent contractor. The courts have applied a number of approaches to this question and there is not a consensus on this issue. The most prevalent approach applies a control test. The greatest factor considered in this argument is the extent of control that the employer has over the details of the employee and his work. You will see this approach along with various others applied in several of your case readings for this unit.


Another approach argues that an employer must be established as the responsible party. The employer must be a company of a certain size, as defined by number of employees, for many statutes to provide protection to the worker. An employment attorney may question whether the complainant has worked a sufficient number of weeks to be considered an employee. The attorney may use these points of attack on a plaintiff’s case before the merits of the case or treatment of the worker are even addressed by the court. The HRM professional can play a key role in case preparation by understanding the definitions, relationships, and relevant legal principles pertaining to the employer-employee-attorney relationship.


Garner, B., McDaniel, B., & Schultz, D. W. (Eds.). (2004). Black’s law dictionary (8th ed.). St. Paul, MN: West Group.

George, H. (1883). Social problems. Retrieved from http://schalkenbach.org/library/henry- george/social-problems/sp05.html

Riverbend Country Club v. Patterson, Tex. Civ. App., 399 S.W.2d 382 (1965).

  • Legal Background: Employer and Employee
    • References

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