Sunday night the John Oliver show had a feature on WWE wrestlers and how the company screws them over by calling them independent contractors and making them sign contracts that say they are not employees.
I chuckled watching this, not just because the show was funny, but because we’ve seen many other companies try to get away with this nonsense.
I can’t speak for other states, but in Illinois you can’t waive your rights to workers’ compensation benefits and just because you signed something that says you are an independent contractor doesn’t make it true.
Under Illinois workers’ compensation law, the test as to whether or not you are an employee comes down to how much control the employer has over you. Per John Oliver, WWE wrestlers sign contracts that say they work for the company exclusively. The WWE controls the scripts, when they wrestle, how much they get paid, where to go and if you are hurt and can’t wrestle for six weeks or more they can terminate the agreement at any point.
Does that sound like The Rock or Steve Austin or Chicago’s own The Miz are independent contractors? It doesn’t to me. They certainly aren’t like the accountant you hire for your taxes or a plumber you call when you have a leak.
I looked up the WWE at the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission website and can’t find any evidence that they’ve had a work comp case filed against them. That’s probably because the wrestlers are scared to lose their jobs or simply don’t know their rights. We’d love to bring a case for any pro wrestler who wants to challenge this law. If they were signed by the WWE in Illinois or hurt while working in Illinois, they can bring a case here and I don’t see how they’d lose.
Pro wrestlers are no different, legally speaking, than actors in a play or pro athletes other than to this point they haven’t received work comp benefits, have a much higher death rate and get treated like garbage by their employer. I was a huge wrestling fan as a kid and it disgusts me to see how wrestlers are treated today. I would love the chance to challenge the system that has been holding them down illegally.