If you're injured while on the job, you are entitled to worker's compensation -- if you're classified as an employee. However, if you are hired as an independent contractor, you are not entitled to any benefits at all from worker's compensation law. Fortunately, there are a few ways to get the coverage you are owed due to your accident. Working with an attorney, you can try fighting to get compensation for your work-related injury.
1. Get classified as an employee.
There are strict laws surrounding an employee's work environment. Certain benefits must be paid to employees, so it can often be easier and cheaper for a company to use independent contractors instead of employees. But there are several distinctions that make a contractor different from a standard employee. If your employer did not make these distinctions clear in order to save himself money or hassle, you could fight to be recognized as an employee and therefore claim the compensation you are owed. You can fight for employee status if:
- you are on the payroll and receive a paycheck like an employee. Independent contractors usually send invoices or are paid through a less standard means, like a payment service or a direct deposit without a pay stub. If you ever received overtime pay, this is also an indication of employee status.
- you employer supplied all your working equipment. For example, if you worked for a magazine as a photographer, the magazine could have provided the cameras, workspace, and software for you to take and finish photos. Typically, this would make you an employee. If you brought your own camera and finished your photos on your personal computer or from a home office, you'd fall more into contractor territory.
- you were required to keep a certain schedule or show up at a specific time. If you were put on the regular schedule or assigned a routine shift, this would make you an employee. Contractors "hire themselves out" for work. They are professionals that work with a company owner to let them know their general availability and work with deadlines instead of set hours.
- you are an integral part of the business. If you, for instance, are a junior architect working for a construction company, your contributions should be those of a salaried employee. The entire success of the construction business is based on your designs, and there is a level of permanence required for you to stay and oversee the designs.
Your lawyer will gather as much work history as possible to help you claim employee status. It is illegal for businesses to call real employees contractors to get out of paying benefits.
2. Find a different lawsuit.
If you can't win the "I'm an employee" argument, you'll need to find another angle -- usually in the form of a different lawsuit. Your best bet is filing a regular personal injury lawsuit. You have to tread carefully here, because you are different than a customer or an employee. The only way your case will win is if you can prove that the company was negligent and directly caused your injuries which would have been completely prevented if not for the negligence in question. As an independent contractor, it is your job to ensure the safety of the workplace, because you're self-employed.
Usually, the contract between the contractor and the hiring company needs to be consulted. What were the terms of agreement? If part of the terms were to ensure the safety of a particular aspect of the job and that aspect was not attended to, you could sue for negligence. For example, if you were hired to paint a railing and you made it clear that a portion of staircase needed to be fixed before the railing could be properly painted, you would receive compensation if you fell through the staircase during your job because it had not been repaired as agreed.
For more information, contact a workers' compensation attorney at a firm like Hardee and Hardee LLP.