Unfortunately, not all workers are considered employees under Illinois workers’ compensation law. This matters because only employees get benefits, which include payment of medical expenses and lost pay.

Independent contractors are not employees under this law and not entitled to coverage if injured on the job. It can be frustrating because many employers treat their employees and independent contractors the same. What’s worse is that some employers label their employees as “independent contractors” because it’s in their own best interest. For one, if that worker gets hurt, the employer doesn’t have to pay workers’ compensation. 

The law in Illinois addresses this situation by creating its own definitions of employee and independent contractor. Ultimately, it’s not up to your employer to pick and choose. So the number one piece of advice lawyers should give an injured independent contractor is to make sure they’re truly an independent contractor under the law.

So what’s the legal difference? It comes down to how much control your employer has over your work. The more control they have, the more likely it is that you’re an employee, even if they call you a contractor. If, on the other hand, you are very independent, then their label of independent contractor might be correct.

More specifically, here is what we mean by control. If your boss sets your hours, hands out your assignments, requires a uniform, provides a uniform, provides tools or equipment, or requires you to perform your job in a certain way, it shows control. If you decide when, where and how to do your work, then there is less control.

It can be difficult to judge how much control your employer has over your work, especially if you’ve only had a handful of jobs. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney should have a broader perspective because they have evaluated similar situations for many, many workers. They will be able to explain how the law works in your specific situation.

The take-away here is to not give up on benefits because your employer calls you an independent contractor. Make sure. Get legal advice. If you’re actually an employee and eligible for benefits, it can make a big difference. A work injury, especially one that prevents you from doing your job or a serious injury that requires surgery and a long recovery, can really turn things upside down. Workers’ compensation benefits, if you’re eligible, can help you keep control of your life.