Workers are the backbone of every business. Good ones can grow a company; bad ones can drive customers away. In almost every state, the relationship between workers and employers is presumed to be “at-will.” That means either party can end the relationship at any time without any legal consequences. There are exceptions — an employee cannot be fired out of retaliation for performing a legally protected action, cannot be fired for a discriminatory reason, and cannot be fired outside of the terms of an employment contract.
Beyond at-will employment, all workers must be classified as an employee or an independent contractor. The distinction is important, because each status has very different rights and obligations. Employees and employers split paying social security and Medicare taxes; independent contractors shoulder the entire burden. Employees are eligible for unemployment benefits; independent contractors are not. Workers’ compensation pays employees medical bills and lost wages caused by an injury at work. Independent contractors get no benefits if they are hurt at work.
An employee’s injury must be work-related to successfully receive workers’ compensation relief, which generally means it happened while performing usual work duties or something else on the employer’s behalf. Although workers’ compensation benefits are intended to cover every job-related injury suffered by an employee, there are limited instances where employees may sue employers in court. Examples include extreme cases of negligence, certain intentional torts (e.g., battery, assault, fraud, etc.), and a failure to carry the required amount of workers’ compensation insurance.
They can file a personal injury lawsuit and may be successful if they can show (1) a causal connection between their employers’ actions or omissions and the injury and (2) that the actions and omissions amounted to negligence. An employee that works for an independent contractor, but is hurt while doing work on premises belonging to a company that hired the contractor, may be able to bring a viable third-party lawsuit against the company. It may sound convoluted, but, in reality, it’s quite common. Any company that uses the employees of a temporary staffing agency would fall under this scenario and could be subject to liability unless the company and the agency were joint employers.
Just because an employer pays a worker as an independent contractor by using a form 1099 and not withholding taxes, this does not mean that he or she would not be considered an employee under the law. Whether a person is an independent contractor or an employee generally depends on the employer’s amount of control over the work being done. Generally, if an employer has the right to control the time, manner, and means of employment, a worker is considered an employee rather than an independent contractor. Misclassification can be an issue. If an independent contractor is discovered to meet the legal definition of an employee, the consequences to the employer can be costly.
If you are trying to put your life back together after a workplace accident, or if you have any questions about this topic, you can find out more by discussing it with one of the attorneys at The Mann Law Firm. We have over 50 years of experience helping people, and we can help you. Based in Macon, we proudly serve communities throughout Georgia. Contact us by calling (478) 742-3381 or by filling out our online form.