What It Takes to Qualify as an Employee (and Not an Independent Contractor) in a Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Case

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently issued an important new ruling regarding who qualifies as an employee and who is an independent contractor when it comes to workers’ compensation benefits. While court did not adopt the rule for which the injured worker advocated and the ruling ultimately was an unsuccessful outcome for this particular worker, that does not mean that you should give up and fail to pursue your case for benefits, even if your employer asserts that you are an independent contractor. Each case is different and the factors that Massachusetts uses may yield a more favorable result for your case. Be sure never to assume and, instead, talk to an experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney.

The worker in the case was a woman who delivered papers. She fell on a ramp while working and hurt her right knee and hand. A few months later, she fell on ice and injured her right leg. The injuries eventually caused the worker to undergo two surgeries, one on her knee and one on her hand.

The woman brought a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. The employer asserted that the woman was an independent contractor and, as a result, not eligible for benefits. The woman, in opposition to that argument, contended that the definition of an “employee” contained in the independent contractor statute established that she was an employee.

If the high court had accepted the woman’s argument and declared the definition of employee contained within the independent contractor statute to be the correct framework for resolving employee-versus-independent-contractor disputes in workers’ compensation cases, then that broader definition of employee would mean that more people would qualify as employees and, by extension, qualify for benefits.

The court did not decide to use that basis for determining whether or not workers qualified as employees. Instead, it stated that the correct framework was one created by two previous cases, MacTavish v. O’Connor Lumber Co., and Whitman’s Case. This “MacTavish-Whitman” test sets up 12 things that courts can look at as factors for deciding if a worker is an employee or an independent contractor.

That test requires an analysis of things like the degree of control the employer has over the worker, the amount of company tools/supplies/resources the employer provides, the type of payment the worker receives and whether the work was normally completed by employees or independent contractors.

In the recent Supreme Court case, the facts worked against the worker. Although the worker had a general delivery deadline, she could otherwise set her own hours. The worker used her own car and could make her deliveries in any order she wanted. The employer paid her based upon the number of papers she delivered.

All of these factors pointed a low degree of control and a high degree of independence. Your case may be different. Your employer may provide you with a company laptop or tablet device. Your employer may demand that deliver sales presentations to prospective customers in a particular manner or with a set script. Your employer may provide with a set list of “leads,” or potential customer prospects that it expects you to contact. Your employer might pay you by the hour. Any of those things could be evidence of an enhanced degree of employer control and, unlike the paper delivery woman, be enough to tip the scales in your favor and make you an employee for purposes of workers’ compensation.

For your workers’ compensation claim needs, retain knowledgeable Plymouth County workers’ compensationlawyer Michael S. Mehrmann, who has spent many years effectively representing people from across Plymouth County, including Kingston, Plymouth, Marshfield, Hanson, Carver, Pembroke, and Duxbury. To find out more about how we can help you, call (781) 585-3911 or contact us online.