Who is Not Covered Under Iowa Workers’ Compensation Law?

Today I am going to write about some of the more common situations where an injured worker may not qualify to receive Iowa work comp benefits. In all of these areas the specific facts of the case are extremely important, and if you fall into any of these situations you should talk to a lawyer to help figure out whether you may qualify for Iowa Workers’ Compensation benefits, or another remedy.

OWNER-OPERATORS OF TRUCKS. Truck drivers who are regular employees of a trucking company are covered by workers’ compensation law. (There are some very complicated issues concerning the correct state where a truck driver work comp case should be filed, and I will talk about that issue down the road).

However, a truck driver who functions as an owner-operator for a trucking company may not be covered with Iowa workers’ compensation benefits. The controlling statute on this issue is Iowa Code Section 85.61(.11)(c)(3) The statute provides that if all of the following conditions are substantially present then the owner-operator will not be considered to be an employee who is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits:

1. The owner-operator is responsible for the maintenance of the vehicle.

2. The owner-operator bears the principal burden of paying for fuel, repairs, supplies, collision insurance, and the personal expenses of the driver while on the road.

3. The owner-operator is responsible for supplying the driver or drivers for the truck.

4. The owner-operator’s compensation is not based on the hours or time expended, but rather on a percentage of any schedule of rates or lawfully published tariff.

5. The owner-operator is in charge of determining the details and means of performing the services in conformance with the regulatory requirements, operating procedures of the carrier and specifications of the shipper.

6. The owner-operator enters into a contract which specifies that he is an independent contractor and not an employee of the truck company.

If you drive truck as an owner-operator you should consider purchasing your own workers’ compensation insurance if at all possible. Many truck driving jobs have a very physical component and the possibility of a serious injury is significant.

CASUAL EMPLOYEES. Iowa law also provides that a worker whose employment is purely casual and not for the purpose of the employer’s trade or business is generally not covered by workers’ compensation insurance. However, a frequent exception to this rule is when an employer, such as a warehouse, might hire a number of workers for a short-term basis to help with a spike in business. These temporary workers would not be considered casual employees because they are engaged in the warehouse’s regular business, and therefore would be entitled to workers’ compensation coverage.

AGRICULTURAL EMPLOYEES. The law relating to when agricultural employees are not covered by workers’ compensation insurance is particularly complex. However, as a general matter a non-family farm employee is covered if the farmer has a total annual payroll of over $2,500.

Obviously, if an employer does not purchase workers’ compensation insurance, there is no way for an employee to receive medical and weekly benefits from an insurance company. The injured worker does have alternate remedies available against the employer, and if you end up injured while working for an uninsured employer, you should definitely talk to a lawyer about your options.

Additionally, if you work for an employer who does not carry workers’ compensation insurance you can report the employer to the Workers’ Compensation Commissioner. The Workers’ Compensation Commissioner is trying hard to enforce the law requiring all Iowa employers to purchase workers’ compensation insurance.

Enforcement of the law requiring employers to have such insurance has two main benefits. First, it obviously helps a worker who is injured on the job. Second, it helps level the playing field for the employers who follow the law and incur the additional expense of purchasing workers’ compensation insurance. All these law abiding employers are at a disadvantage competing against the employers who break the law and avoid the expense of obtaining workers’ compensation insurance.

Under Iowa law an employer is not required to provide workers’ compensation benefits for an independent contractor. As a very general matter the difference between being an employee who gets benefits and an independent contractor who does not get benefits is that the independent contractor is considered to be a separate business or entity from the employer.

The details of how this line is drawn between employees and independent contractors are very complex, and I will talk about that in my next post.