In our last blog post about workers’ compensation, we looked at what it means to be a “statutory employee” in Missouri. However, it is not easy for an injured worker to prove that they were a statutory employee. Not only do they have the burden of proving that they are a statutory employee, they also have to overcome the defenses that companies vigorously raise to avoid liability, such as the argument that the accident did not happen in the usual course of the company’s business.
What is a Statutory Employee?
A worker is an employee of their employer. However, if their employer does not carry workers’ compensation insurance, Missouri Statute 287.040(1) can make the worker a statutory employee of the organization that their employer was contracting with so long as:
- The work was being done under a contract,
- The worker was hurt on or about the organization’s premises, and
- The injury happened during work that was in the usual course of the organization’s business.
This gives the injured worker another source of workers’ compensation coverage or compensation for their injuries.
For example, in the case McClain v. Birnamwood Condominium Association, a tree trimmer fell from a roof and got hurt. His employer, however, did not carry workers’ compensation as required by law. So the worker argued that both the property management company that hired his tree trimming firm, as well as the condominium association that hired the property management company, were his statutory employers.
Liability for Work Done in the Usual Course of Business
While the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission (LIRC) sided with the hurt worker in McClain, it was not for lack of effort on the part of the condominium association. It claimed that the tree trimmer was not hurt “in the usual course of its business” – a common defense that alleged statutory employers raise in an attempt to avoid liability.
According to the Supreme Court of Missouri in McCracken v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP, work is in a company’s “usual course of business” if it:
- Is routinely done on a regular and frequent schedule,
- Is contemplated in the agreement between the company and an independent contractor to be repeated over a short period of time, and
- Would require the company to hire a permanent employee, were it not for the agreement.
In McClain, the condominium association argued that the worker was hurt outside its usual course of business because, while tree trimming happened weekly in the heavily-wooded complex, rooftop tree trimming was a rare event and only done on request by a resident.
While the LIRC did not fall for this excessively narrow concept of the association’s “usual course of business” in this case, alleged statutory employers make these arguments frequently.
Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at the Smith Law Office in St. Joseph
The personal injury and workers’ compensation lawyers at the Smith Law Office serve injured workers in St. Joseph, Kansas City, and Springfield, Missouri. If you have been hurt on the job only to discover that your employer does not carry adequate workers’ compensation coverage, proving that you were the statutory employee of another company may be your only way of recovering the compensation that you deserve.
Contact us online or call our law office at (816) 875-9373.