Iowa workers’ compensation law defines a worker or employee as “. . . a person who has entered into employment of, or works under contract of service, express or implied or apprenticeship for an employer. . .”  In cases involving a dispute over whether or not the injured party was an employee, if the claimant establishes a prima facie case that he is an employee, the employer then has the burden of going forward with evidence which rebuts the Claimant’s status.

The primary issue in deciding whether or not the claimant is an employee is the intention of the parties.

The factors to be considered in assessing whether an employer/employee relationship exists are:

  1. The right to select the employee.
  2. Responsibility for payment of wages by the employer.
  3. The right to discharge or terminate the relationship.
  4. The right to control the work.
  5. Identity of the employer as the authority in charge of the work for whose benefit it is performed.

As a side note, even if both parties declare they intend to form an independent contractor relationship, the agreement is ignored if the purpose was to avoid workers’ compensation liability.

The Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner filed an Appeal Decision on October 23, 2018 in the case of Carter v. Belle City Amusements and Meadowbrook Insurance Group.  The Carter case dealt with a dispute over whether or not Ms. Carter was an employee at the time she was injured.  The parties agreed that Ms. Carter was injured on August 12, 2015.  Ms. Carter argued she was an employee at the time of her injury.  Belle City Amusements argued that they did not hire Ms. Carter until the next day on August 13, 2015, and therefore she was not entitled to work comp benefits for her August 12, 2015 injury.

Prior to her injury the claimant had seven years experience as a carnival worker.  In 2015 Ms. Carter and her boyfriend were both working for the Big A Carnival Company at the Ohio State Fair in Columbus, Ohio.  Ms. Carter was fired from her job by the Big A Carnival Company.  As a result her boyfriend also quit his job at the Big A Carnival Company.

Ms. Carter and her boyfriend then began approaching other carnival companies at the Ohio State Fair looking for new jobs.  Ms. Carter and her boyfriend ended up talking with a representative from Belle City Amusements.  The parties disagree almost completely on every aspect of whether or not Ms. Carter was hired by Belle City Amusements.

Belle City Amusements stated they only hired Ms. Carter’s boyfriend at the Ohio State Fair, and told Ms. Carter the company was next going to the Iowa State Fair, and they could probably find a position for her in Iowa.  The claimant and her boyfriend said they presented themselves as a package deal and they were both hired by Belle City Amusements.

Belle City Amusements put the claimant and her boyfriend up in a hotel for the remaining week of the Ohio State Fair.  Ms. Carter’s boyfriend worked at the Ohio State Fair for Belle City Amusements, but she did not.

Belle City Amusements paid for transportation for Ms. Carter and her boyfriend to the Iowa State Fair, and put them both up in a bunkhouse at Iowa State Fairgrounds.

Ms. Carter’s boyfriend worked setting up rides for Belle City Amusements on August 11 and August 12, 2015.

The Iowa State Fair did not open until August 13, 2015.

Ms. Carter suffered a head injury on August 12, 2015 while she was cleaning a ticket booth.  She had been kneeling down and cleaning and when she stood up she struck her head on an air conditioner.  Ms. Carter suffered a severe laceration and was taken to the Iowa Lutheran Hospital Emergency Room for treatment where she was assessed as having a concussion and her wound was closed with staples.

Belle City Amusements argued that Ms. Carter was not hired until August 13, 2015 to work as a ticket taker.  Belle City Amusements argued that Ms. Carter was not an employee on August 12, 2015 when she suffered her head injury, and no one from Belle City Amusements had told her to clean the ticket booth.

On August 13, 2015 Ms. Carter only worked as a ticket taker for Belle City Amusements for about one hour and then reported she could not continue.  Ms. Carter soon began developing seizures.

Ms. Carter’s symptoms worsened and she wanted to return home to be with her mother in Florida.  Belle City Amusements offered to send Ms. Carter to Florida by plane.  However, an agreement was worked out that Ms. Carter and her boyfriend would both take a bus to Florida, and that after Ms. Carter was delivered to her mother, her boyfriend would return to work with Belle City Amusements.

The claimant’s condition continued to deteriorate in Florida and she eventually was awarded Social Security Disability benefits.

In disputes over employee status a key piece of evidence is usually the payroll records.  The payroll records can show the dates a worker was being paid.  However, in the carnival business many of the employees do not have checking accounts, and the employees are paid in cash.  There were no payroll records in this case.

At trial the claimant emphasized all of the lodging and transportation that Belle City Amusements had provided to her.  Ms. Carter and her boyfriend also testified that they had both been hired at the Ohio State Fair as a package deal.  The claimant also stressed that the only reason for her to be cleaning the ticket booth where she was injured was if she had been hired to work in that ticket booth.

Belle City Amusements explained that Ms. Carter’s boyfriend had exceptional skills in setting up and operating rides.  Employees like Ms. Carter’s boyfriend were in high demand during the peak fair season.  Therefore, Belle City Amusements provided transportation and lodging for Ms. Carter as part of recruiting and retaining of Ms. Carter’s boyfriend.  Belle City Amusements explained that they did hire Ms. Carter as a ticket taker, but not until August 13, 2015 when they realized they were one ticket taker short.

The Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner noted that there were some facts that suggested Ms. Carter was an employee at the time she was injured, but ultimately found that she failed to carry her burden of proof that she had been hired before her injury.  Therefore, Ms. Carter did not receive any workers’ compensation benefits.