MLM salespeople are not employees of the MLM company. Participants do not derive a salary/wage, nor do participants receive remuneration from the MLM company for their invested labor and expenses in their MLM "independent business". The income of participants, if any income is made at all, is derived only from commissions on their personal sales or their share of the commissions on the personal sales of their downlines (the MLM compensation structure).

The legal distinction between MLMs and traditional pyramid schemes has been characterized by many authorities as a legal fiction. Jurisdictions that retain a legal distinction between MLM pyramid businesses versus illegal pyramid schemes retain said distinction on two key distinguishing features: 1) that MLMs always encompass the sale of actual products/services, while traditional illegal pyramid schemes ordinarily do not (though sometimes they do), and 2) that climbing an MLM pyramid is overwhelmingly statistically improbable (especially to its highest participant levels) but not theoretically impossible, whereas climbing a traditional illegal pyramid scheme is both statistically and theoretically impossible.[citation needed]