Last month, former fighters of the UFC, which is the world’s largest mixed martial arts organization, filed a lawsuit that alleged among other things that the UFC unfairly restricted their pay and ability to earn a living.
I think it’s nuts that those fighters haven’t formed a union, but that’s a story for another day.
Reading about the lawsuit made me realize that there is a simpler route to some benefits that current fighters should pursue. Specifically, they should file a workers’ compensation claim if they get injured in a fight.
All of their fighters are considered independent contractors. If that’s true, then the UFC doesn’t have to pay for work comp benefits for any injuries. But a closer look shows that just like regular Illinois employees who get hurt on the job and are called independent contractors (falsely) can get benefits, so can these fighters.
The key test to determine if someone is really an independent contractor or an employee that has been mis-classified is to determine what right of control the employer has over them.
A true independent contractor is free to work for who they want to work for when they want to work for them. UFC fighters can only fight for the UFC. If someone else wants to offer them a million dollars for a fight, they have to say no.
I understand why the UFC would want to restrict the fighters on their roster. If their champion, who they have helped develop and promote, fights against someone else who is not in their organization, it hurts their brand.
But because they have the ability to restrict your earnings, they have control over you. It’s different than boxers who are allowed to fight for various titles from different organizations. There are other control issues such as the UFC limiting what sponsors a fighter can have on their trunks or them requiring you to participate in promotional events.
And just like a truck driver who is prevented from driving for another company or can’t turn down an assignment is not an independent contractor, neither are UFC fighters in my opinion, at least not in Illinois.
We would love to let the Illinois courts determine if we are right. So if you know a fighter that was hurt during a UFC event in Illinois, we’d love to speak with them.
And if you were hurt while working as an independent contractor, but think you might have been an employee, we’d love to talk to you also. Too many workers are getting screwed out of benefits by employers that think they have found a loop hole in the system.