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Can Independent Contractors Get Workers' Comp?

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The number of independent contractors in the United States is steadily growing as employers look to cut costs and workers look for more freedom. Working as a freelancer has both its benefits and its drawbacks; increased control over your work may come at the expense of a steady paycheck, overtime wages, and other benefits that must be provided to full-time workers in the US.

Contractors who are injured by an accident on the job do not have the same recourse as full-time employees who are covered by workers’ compensation insurance. If you find yourself in this position, don’t panic. Depending on the details of your work and relationship with your employer, you may be able to argue that you’ve been misclassified and should be eligible for all benefits provided to full-time workers, including worker’s comp.

Defining Independent Contractors

California has no legal definition of what it means to be an independent contractor, so past court decisions are used as references when determining a worker’s employment status. Though a worker’s contract may denote them as an independent contractor, and even if they are issued a 1099 rather than a W-2, the law does not recognize this as fixed evidence of one’s employment status. In fact, the state always assumes that a worker is a full employee and evidence to the contrary must be presented by the employer.

A 2018 decision by the California Supreme Court tightened the rules for employers, which stated that employers could not classify workers as independent contractors unless:

  1. Workers perform their work without any control or oversight as to how and when the work is done.
  2. The services performed by these workers are not analogous or supplementary to the main services provided by the business.
  3. Workers own their own business that provides services independent of the employer.

The decision applied to worker wages (including questions of overtime and guaranteed breaks), not workers’ comp, but it provides a strong argument in any case that involves employee misclassification.

Starting a Workers’ Comp Lawsuit

Employers are incentivized to fight back against potential workers’ comp cases because any claims filed with their insurance may raise premiums. That’s why we provide legal aid to workers who have been injured on the job who believe they are owed more benefits.

The first step in pursuing a case for workers’ comp may be disputing your classification under California law. You should gather relevant documentation and the name(s) of anyone involved in classifying or employing you as an independent contractor. This information should be filed with the Labor Commissioner’s Office no less than three years after your rights are violated. We are here to help you gather information and submit everything correctly to the LCO so your case can be heard.

Am I Eligible for Other Damages?

If the state or federal government finds that you have been misclassified, you may also be able to recover compensation for excess expenses you paid due to your employment status. These include:

  • Reimbursement of business expenses
  • Unpaid wages
  • Unpaid overtime, meal, and rest breaks
  • Penalties for improper record-keeping

Worker misclassification is a serious concern punishable by state and federal fines or penalties and damages owed to individual workers. You shouldn’t have to bear the expenses of an independent contractor while being beholden to a single employer—especially when huge expenses from a work-related accident are on the line. Let the Law Offices of Larry S. Buckley help you navigate your labor rights.

If you’re looking for worker’s comp and other benefits you’ve been unlawfully denied, reach out online or by phone at (530) 413-0245 for a free case evaluation.

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