Working as an independent contractor is a great way to gain independence in your career. You go into business for yourself, have the freedom to choose which clients you want to work with, and can set many of your own terms. However, what happens when you get hurt at work? While most employees can file workers' compensation, what does that mean for you as an independent contractor? Here is a look at what you need to know about workers' compensation, independent contractors, and the law.
What Defines An Independent Contractor?
In today's work-for-hire environment, more people are working as independent contractors than ever before. An independent contractor is someone who is not directly employed by any company but provides contract-based services to companies on demand.
The government has a fairly strict definition of what qualifies for an independent contractor classification. As an independent contractor, the company you work with can only dictate the quality and final outcome required from a job. They cannot control the process you use to get the job done.
Because independent contractors are technically considered to be self-employed, they are responsible for paying their own taxes. The companies they work with are not held liable for their income, Social Security, or Medicare tax withholding. Independent contractors are also required to provide their own insurance and retirement benefits. Further, they are not typically covered under any company's workers' compensation policy. However, there are some exceptions.
When Might Independent Contractors Be Covered Under Workers' Compensation?
The government's strict definition of an independent contractor can actually work in your favor sometimes if you've been hurt at work and are looking to seek workers' compensation. Since the guidelines are so precise, many companies inaccurately classify individuals as independent contractors when their work requirements actually qualify them as employees.
For example, if you are subject to the company's work schedule, expected to call in when you won't make it to work, required to wear a company uniform, or provided with company equipment, you may be considered an employee in the eyes of the law.
Working with a workers' compensation attorney can help you to determine if you might qualify for coverage based on this grey area. The laws consider a variety of factors in determining your classification, including the level of autonomy you have in your work cycle, how vital your work is to the company's success, how much equipment you are provided by the company versus having to provide yourself, and the length of the relationship.
What If You Sign An Independent Contractor Agreement?
Many people working as independent contractors fail to pursue any kind of workers' compensation coverage for a work-related injury because they signed a contract defining themselves as independent contractors when they started working with the company. They believe that, by signing that contract, they sign away their rights to pursue employee classification even if they qualify for it.
This is not necessarily the case. A signed contract cannot void the law as it is written. That means that, even if you have signed a contract with the company that defines your role as that of an independent contractor, and even if that contract indemnifies the company from providing you with any kind of workers' compensation or other benefits, the contract itself may be considered void if it is reviewed in court.
Your workers' compensation attorney can help you with an employment status hearing before your workers' compensation claim as a means to support your claim and help you get the coverage that you need. If you don't have an attorney, you can reach out to a workers' compensation attorney referral service to find one near you that can help.