An associate employee is another term for any employee of a business. The associate employee does the same job as an associate or an employee. Businesses can chose to call the people they hire by either term or both.
Opinions on what to call an employee varies for a number of reasons, including personal choice, the mental connection people make between job titles and the level of the job. The use of associate is becoming more popular as people try to invest all levels of employees in the success of the business. Many employees are stockholders, which can influence the amount of passion and drive employees have to see a place succeed.