If an injured worker is found to be an employee, then they are entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits. However, if an injured worker is found to be an independent contractor, then they are not entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits. Iowa Code Section 85.61(11) defines an employee as someone who has entered into the employment of or is working under a contract of service, express or implied, for an employer.
Where the employer-employee relationship is in dispute, the worker has the initial duty to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that they were an employee within the meaning of the law. If the worker can establish a prima facie case that they were an employee, then the burden shifts to the Defendant to rebut the presumption that the worker was an employee.
Determining whether or not a worker is an employee relies on analyzing multiple factors. No one factor is controlling. The factors are:
- The overriding issue is the intention of the parties. Even if both parties enter into a written agreement stating they have an independent contractor relationship, their stated intent is ignored if the agreement exists to avoid the workers’ compensation laws.
- If the alleged employer has the right to hire or terminate the worker, this will support the conclusion that the worker is the employee.
- If the alleged employer has the responsibility to pay wages, then this will support the conclusion that the worker is an employee.
- If the alleged employer has the right to control the work, then this supports the conclusion that the worker is an employee. The control test does not require that the employer actually exercised the power of control over details or methods, but rather that the right to exercise such control existed.
- If the alleged employer is the authority in charge of the work or for whose benefits the work is being performed, then this will also support the conclusion that the worker is an employee.
- If the worker is using the tools or equipment of the employer, that generally leads to the conclusion that the worker is an employee.
- A contract for a certain amount of work at a fixed price leads toward the conclusion that the worker is an independent contractor.
- If the worker has his own business that will also lean toward the findings of an independent contractor.
- If the worker employs his own assistants that he has the right to supervise, that suggest the worker as an independent contractor.
- If the worker has an obligation to furnish tools, supplies and materials that suggests he is an independent contractor.
- If the worker has the right to control the progress of the work that suggests he is an independent contractor.
- If the worker is doing something that is not part of the regular business of the employer that supports the idea that the worker is an independent contractor.
The Workers’ Compensation Commissioner filed an appeal decision on January 11, 2019 addressing a dispute over whether or not a worker was an employee or independent contractor in the case of LaDonna Martinez v. James Heffelmeier. The case also dealt with an employer that had not purchased workers’ compensation insurance.
The Claimant graduated from high school in 1984 and had no additional education. Her prior work experience had been as a lunch aide and cook at a school, a temporary worker in a warehouse and as a housekeeper.
The Claimant began working for the Defendant in 2015.
The Claimant worked for the Defendant in two capacities. She generally worked in hog facilities of the Defendant. Less frequently she did concrete work as part of building additional hog facilities.
The Claimant was paid $10.00 an hour for working in the hog facilities and $13.00 an hour for the concrete work.
The Claimant did not have any background or knowledge concerning hog facilities or concrete. The Defendant trained her on both of these jobs. The Defendant also supplied all of the tools for both of the jobs.
The Claimant was paid in cash every Friday. The Claimant’s understanding was that the Defendant was withholding $100.00 of her pay every week to pay for taxes. However, the Defendant conceded that he did not actually pay any taxes to the government on behalf of the Claimant.
The Claimant injured her right shoulder on May 1, 2015 while moving some concrete forms. The Claimant reported the injury to the Defendant who told her to shake it off and not act like a “Namby-Pamby.”
The Claimant finished her shift, but was unable to return to work the next day because of the pain. The Defendant fired her and the Claimant has not been able to work since May 1, 2015.
The Defendant did not have any workers’ compensation insurance, and would not voluntarily pay for the Claimant’s medical expenses or her time off work. The Claimant did receive some medical care, but was holding off on pursuing the recommended shoulder surgery until the litigation could be concluded.
The Deputy Workers’ Compensation Commissioner that originally heard the case and the head Commissioner that issued the Appeal Decision both agreed that the evidence was overwhelming that the Claimant was definitely the employee of Heffelmeier.
The award for the Claimant in the case was as follows:
- The Claimant was entitled to a running award for healing benefits from the time she was fired in May of 2015 until her shoulder surgery was performed and she reaches maximum medical improvement.
- When the Claimant reaches maximum medical improvement the amount of permanent partial disability to be paid will be addressed.
- The Defendant was ordered to pay penalty benefits of $21,000.00 for his failure to provide workers’ compensation benefits without any reasonable basis.
- The Defendant was ordered to pay the Claimant’s past and future medical expenses.
The success of collecting damages against an employer without work comp insurance varies widely. In the Martinez case the employer appears to have considerable assets and may be able to pay some or all of the award. Unfortunately, in some cases involving uninsured employers it is not possible to collect the entire award.
If you have questions or a dispute involving whether you are an employer or an independent contractor; or you are dealing with an employer without workers’ compensation coverage, you can contact us without any obligation to have us analyze your case and figure out whether we can help you.