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Employee misclassification deprives injured workers of benefits

Employers will sometimes hire short-term employees and misclassify them as "independent contractors" rather than actual employees. That lets the employer avoid dealing with the inconveniences (and costs) of paying unemployment and other taxes on those workers. It also neatly avoids having to add the employees to the company's workers' compensation policy and risk a hike in premiums.

That sort of practice can leave the so-called "independent contractor" out of luck—and benefits—when he or she gets injured on the job.

Since independent contractors aren't covered by a company's worker's comp insurance, they're on their own for any hospital bills they might accrue after an injury. They also don't have any access to the other services and payments that normally come with worker's comp benefits.

That's the situation facing a 19-year-old North Carolina man who mangled his hand and lost a finger after getting his glove caught on a piece of machinery while digging trenches for cable lines. It wasn't until after he was injured that he found out that he'd been classified an independent contractor by the subcontractor that had hired him.

Based on the information available, it's unlikely that the teen could have legitimately been considered an independent contractor. Among other things, independent contractors generally have specialized skills and don't require training on the equipment they're going to use. They also generally supply their own tools, and they exercise a considerable amount of control over their own work hours.

While this teen and his coworkers were left unsupervised, they were given minimal training on the equipment they needed to use for the job. The equipment was supplied by the subcontractor, and the workers weren't setting their own hours or bringing any specialized skills to the project. If anything, the work they were doing was probably best described as "grunt work," not skilled labor.

What should you do if you're injured and then find out that you've been classified as an independent contractor instead of an employee? If you believe that this is a misclassification, don't just give up and assume that you're stuck with the hospital bills and there's nothing you can do about it.

Instead, contact an attorney who handles workers' compensation claims. He or she can help you fight the misclassification and get the benefits and care that you need—including compensation for things like lost wages and damaged or missing fingers.

Source: workcompcentral.com, "Teen Faces Medical Bills After Losing Finger," Dec. 13, 2016

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