A recent workers’ compensation case highlights the strict nature of the law in Missouri, especially when it comes to independent contractors, the self-employed, and workers who spend their time on the road.
Self-Employed Driver Hurt in Car Accident
The case involved a self-employed delivery driver. She had signed a contract to perform pickups and deliveries in her own car for a company in Kansas City. This contract stated that she was an independent contractor, and that she acknowledged that the company did not provide workers’ compensation coverage. While she also had the right to refuse daily assignments, she claimed that the work was a continuous 40-hour work week, and that the company controlled the means and methods of her work.
Therefore, looking at the IRS’ 20-factor test for employment status, there was at least some ambiguity as to whether the worker was really an independent contractor, or whether the nature of the relationship had turned her into an employee who would be covered by workers’ compensation protection.
When the worker got hurt in a car accident while on a delivery, she sought workers’ compensation from the company she was working for. She claimed that she was a statutory employee under Missouri Statute 287.040(1).
Statutory Employees in Missouri
Missouri Statute 287.040(1) is an attempt by the Missouri Legislature to prevent companies from evading their legal responsibilities to their workers by simply labeling all of them as independent contractors. Under this law, a purported independent contractor is still an employee—and therefore covered by workers’ compensation—if:
- The work is performed under a contract
- The injury happens on the alleged employer’s premises, and
- The work is in the usual course of the alleged employer’s business
The hurt delivery driver claimed that all three of these requirements were satisfied. The panel hearing her workers’ compensation case, however, disagreed: The injury was not on the employer’s “premises.”
From a Liberal to a Strict Reading of the Statute
Importantly, back in 2005, the Missouri Legislature gutted much of the protection guaranteed by the state’s workers’ compensation laws by changing Missouri Statute 287.800. While this law used to tell administrative judges to “liberally construe” the protections of workers’ compensation law to cover more workers, lawmakers changed it in 2005 to tell judges to “strictly construe” the law so fewer hurt workers would be covered.
Therefore, whenever it is less than clear that a worker is a statutory employee under Missouri Statute 287.040(1), judges are now supposed to declare them independent contractors that fall outside the benefits of workers’ compensation coverage.
Roads Cannot be an Employer’s Premises
Using this strict way of reading the workers’ compensation statute, the panel hearing the workers’ compensation case looked for reasons to find the delivery driver in this case was not a statutory employee. It found that reason in a prior Missouri Court of Appeals case, Cole v. Town & Country Exteriors. That case had said that an employer’s “premises does not extend to public roads used by independent contractors to get to the job site.” Even though the case was off-point—the hurt delivery driver now claiming to be a statutory employee was not getting to the job site at the time of her injury—it was enough for the panel to deny her claim for workers’ compensation coverage.
Not everyone on the panel agreed, though. One panelist rightly pointed out that “the road is the premises where a delivery driver mainly works.” However, with two panelists ruling against her, the driver’s claim was denied.
Workers’ Compensation Lawyers in St. Joseph and the Smith Law Office
Recovering workers’ compensation is becoming more and more difficult as employers take new steps to prevent it from happening. One of the most common in St. Joseph has been to label workers as independent contractors and hide behind Missouri’s pro-business workers’ compensation laws.
The workers’ compensation and personal injury lawyers at the Smith Law Office in St. Joseph can advocate on your behalf if you have been hurt at work. Contact them online or call their law office at (816) 875-9373.