Can an Independent Contractor Claim Workers’ Compensation Benefits?

Generally, California workers’ compensation laws are designed to provide certain benefits to employees injured on the job.  Employers are often surprised when they hear that an independent contractor may also be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.  How is this possible?  As an example, a company believes it has done its due diligence by hiring an individual and explicitly stating in a written contract that the individual will perform services as an independent contractor.  In turn, the individual agrees to perform services for the company as an independent contractor.

At some point during the relationship, the individual files a claim with the company for workers’ compensation benefits arising from a work injury.  This is where most of my clients turn to Ideal Legal Group, Inc. seeking to make sense of this dilemma.

One reason has to do with the misclassification of a worker as an independent contractor.  The relationship between the company and the individual is analyzed by a workers’ compensation judge under standards and tests that are rarely contemplated by the parties.

The intent of the parties to enter into an independent contractor agreement is not conclusive on whether the individual is an employee or an independent contractor for purposes of determining entitlement to workers’ compensation benefits.  The intent of the parties is only a relevant consideration.

A workers’ compensation judge tasked with determining whether the individual is an employee or independent contractor is said to be resolving a mixed question based on fact and law.  Because the workers’ compensation judge will take the facts surrounding the relationship and apply the controlling law to those facts, it is important to consult with a workers’ compensation attorney to fully understand the various factors at play.

To make things a little more complicated, whenever an employer contends that the individual is an independent contractor, laws place the burden on the defendant/alleged-employer to establish the independent contractor defense.  If a company’s area of business does not lend to traditional employer-employee relationships, the company is better off consulting with a workers’ compensation attorney before the occurrence of an injury on the job.