Do You Qualify for Workers’ Compensation Benefits?

January 26, 2023
Chloe C. Murray
Work Ankle Injury Stern & Cohen

Understanding whether you qualify for Workers’ Compensation benefits can be complicated. There are many questions that must be answered. Were you in the course and scope of your employment? Were you an employee as required by law? Were you intoxicated at the time of the injury? Did you report the injury in a timely fashion? The list goes on. Defining who is considered an employee for purposes of Workers’ Compensation is the first step of your claim.

There are many definitions of an employee. A simple definition is a person hired to do a specific job for another. An employer is a ‘master’ of that person. If you are hired by another, you are that person’s employee. However, there are many, many caveats, or exceptions to this generality. Two of the most litigated issues surrounding this topic are statutory employers and independent contractors.

Statutory Employer

A statutory employer is “a master who is not a contractual or common-law one but is made one by the Act.” When we think of the term employer, we usually think of a boss or someone in Human Resources. This would be a contractual employer, i.e., you signed a paper or verbally agreed that this person or entity would be your employer. A common-law employer is one who has control over the work you do. For example, you are a salesperson at a mom-and-pop retail store. Your boss tells you a salary, the hours you will work, and what you will do each day at work. You may not have signed an employment agreement, but the mom-and-pop retail store is your common-law employer.

A statutory employer means that, while an employer may not have specifically agreed to be an injured workers’ employer, under the Act, they have made themselves so and are thus responsible for payment of Workers’ Compensation benefits. In general, the statutory employer doctrine is used for construction cases. If a subcontractor does not have Workers’ Compensation insurance, sometimes, you can go after the general contractor for Workers’ Compensation benefits. The general contractor would be the statutory employer. The Workers’ Compensation Act lays out the different factors that must be met for a general contractor to be statutorily liable.

Usually, the injured worker and the general contractor will litigate the question of whether the contractor is a statutory employer. The Court will then render a Decision. If the Court finds that the contractor is a statutory employer for purposes of Workers’ Compensation, they are liable as though they were a contractual or common law employer. Thus, an employee would be entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits, assuming they have met other requirements under the Act.

Independent Contractor

The second issue that comes up when discussing employee-employer relationship is independent contractors. Generally, an independent contractor is not an employee. Therefore, they are generally not entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits. However, just because you sign an independent contractor agreement or file a 1099, does not mean you are an independent contractor. This is a question of law and generally in a Judge’s discretion to decide whether a person is an employee or an independent contractor.

In order to determine a person is an independent contractor, the courts consider multiple factors including:

  • Terms of the agreement between the parties
  • The nature of the work or occupation
  • the skill required for performance
  • Whether the one employed is engaged in the distinct occupation or business
  • Which party supplied the tools
  • Whether payment is by the time or by the job
  • Whether work is part of the regular business of the alleged employer
  • The right to terminate the employment at any time

While all of these factors are important, the primary factor is the right to control the person’s work. Like above, generally, the injured worker and the employer will litigate this issue. The Judge then will come to a conclusion. Each situation is determined on a case-by-case basis. The Courts focus on whether the employer had a right to control the employee. For example, did the employer control the hours? Time of work? Manner of work? Generally, if a Judge finds that the employer had a right to control the work, the injured worker will be considered an employee, not an independent contractor. If so, they will be entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits, assuming they have met other requirements under the Act.

Whether you are eligible for Workers’ Compensation benefits can be a complicated question.

At Stern & Cohen, we can also assist you with any type of Workers’ Compensation benefits.  Call us.  The consultation is always free.