One defense to an injured worker claiming that they got hurt on the job is to say that they weren’t really an employee, but rather an independent contractor. Many businesses do this falsely to help themselves cheat on their taxes, avoid paying benefits and full wages and in some cases avoid workers’ compensation claims.
We see this the most with trucking companies, but a suburban Chicago bar tried to call one of their bartenders a contractor and screw them out of their rights under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. Fortunately they failed in the long run.
Like most bartenders, the injured worker in this case had to report to a manager, work the hours they scheduled him for, request permission for days off and breaks, wear a specific type of shirt while working, open and close the bar, make drinks and charge the customers for their orders. One day while doing this work he reached to catch some falling glasses and cut his left hand. Ultimately he had to have surgery.
It sounds like a straight forward case, right? It should have been, but the owner of the bar said he wasn’t really an employee, but instead just an independent contractor. As a result he had to hire an attorney and go to arbitration so he wouldn’t lose out on payment for his medical bills, time off work and his injury.
He won the case as the nature of his work was so closely related to the business being able to function and his employer had control over him. In addition, the employer provided all the equipment and trained the worker on how to do his job. That’s of course not how independent contractors work.
What’s crazy is the employer appealed the case. They lost there too, but it’s beyond shameful that this injured bartender had to wait way too long to get justice. It’s a hiccup of the system, but still better than being stuck with co-pays or not being compensated for the injury.
This is the first case I’ve seen involving a bartender not being called an employee, probably because it’s so obvious that they would be. The big picture lesson is that never trust someone who tells you that you have no rights or can’t bring a claim for a work injury without checking with an attorney who knows what they are talking about. Fortunately this bartender did and was successful in the end.