Golf Caddies: Independent Contractors or Employees?

By Douglas Lipsky

A common problem at golf clubs throughout New York and New Jersey is the misclassification of caddies and other golf club employees. Caddies are frequently classified as independent contractors and not any wages when they are legally entitled to it. This usually violates the minimum wage and overtime laws. If you believe your employment rights at a golf club have been violated, you may have a valid wage and hour claim. 

The Misclassification of Caddies Can Result in Legal Liabilities for Golf Clubs

Most golf caddies receive as compensation just a bag fee per golfer and tips. This policy likely violates federal law, New York law, New Jersey law and other states’ laws.

In analyzing whether someone is an employee or an independent contractor, there are key factors.

Degree of control. Golf Clubs often say the golf caddies can set their own schedule and are free to work at many clubs in a week. While true, practically and legally that does not matter much. At most clubs, the caddy master, who is a club employee, is responsible for assigning caddies to golfers. Caddy masters often tell the caddies by when they need to be at the club and when the caddies can go home. The caddy master also rewards caddies that show up early and do not work at other clubs by assigning them more golfers. This results in those caddies getting more money. Conversely, caddy masters punish caddies that do not show up early and work at other clubs by not assigning the as many golfers, resulting in those caddies not getting as much money. The ultimate result of this is that caddies’ compensation goes up and down based on whether they are loyal to the club and follow the caddy master’s directions. This effectively results in the golf club exercising significant control over the caddies.

Golf clubs tend to further exercise control by setting the bag fee golfers are charged, versus allowing the caddies to set the rate. While most golf clubs have the golfers pay this fee directly to the caddy, that is most often, nothing more than, a thinly veiled attempt by clubs to avoid the employer-employee relationship.

It is also common for golf clubs to require caddies to undergo training, as it is important that the caddy understands the golf course so they can better serve the golfers. This further suggests an employer-employee relationship.

The relationship between the services the caddies provide and the services the club offers. In examining whether someone is an employee or an independent contractor, a key factor is the relationship between what the person is offering and what the business offers. The closer the relationship, the more likely an employer-employee relationship exists. Most golf clubs require golfers to use golf caddies and the service of a caddy is heavily intertwined with the golf club. This strongly suggests an employer-employee relationship. Conversely, if the club hired a make up artists to provide club members as a complimentary service, it is less likely an employer-employee relationship exists between the club and the artists because the club is not in the beauty business.

Why This Matters?

If a golf club classifies its caddies as independent contractors, it is likely not paying them any wages. Depending on the hours the caddies are working, this could result in the caddies not being paid the minimum wage and overtime.

Golf caddies work long, hard hours. The amount of money owed to them for these violations could be significant. In fact, in a recent case, we calculated golf caddies were each owed $1,500 per week. Do not hesitate to contact us for a free consultation regarding your case.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.