Addressing On-The-Job Injuries as an Independent Contractor

Career Resources

In traditional nine-to-five jobs, workers’ compensation represents an essential part of the employee-employer relationship that supports injured workers and businesses alike. Employees have job security and apt time to recover from their injuries, but if you’re an independent contractor, what do you do when you have a work injury?

As a contractor, you’re not technically an employee with the same protections. Your operation is different from the company’s, and you fill a role as outlined by your contract for a set span of time. There are many kinds of independent contractors, from plumbers to specialized freelancers.

With the rise of peer-to-peer marketplaces, such as Instacart and Uber, addressing work injuries becomes more complicated. These companies don’t have an obligation to offer the same protections to independent contractors as regular employees, such as health insurance, paid sick leave or workers’ compensation. Here’s how to handle confusing situations when a work injury happens to you as an independent contractor.

Claims Take Time the Injured Don’t Have

Independent contractors are largely free to choose their own work hours and remain free to take off when they need time to attend a doctor’s appointment or other obligation. The downside is that the contractor typically provides their own health insurance and other similar safeguards. When injuries occur, the independent contractor is usually on their own to cover any related costs and take the time to recover. It’s up the employer to decide if they’ll wait around or not for the worker to get better.

Even traditional employees wait around for the insurance company’s decision on a claim, which may take up to 21 days to rule in favor of providing worker’s compensation or not. If you talk to an attorney, you’d proceed with a prosecution of your case to get your benefits started or a defense when benefits have been initiated, but something’s off.

Some businesses tell an employee to go back to work when the employee isn’t ready and refuse to pay medical bills they say are unrelated to a filed workers’ comp claim. You may return to work from the hospital with particular restrictions where you can’t perform particular job duties. That goes to show that workers’ compensation, insurance and work injuries are a complicated scheme with run-around between you and an employer that leaves you with more questions than answers. Situations can arise where one would want to pursue a case, especially an independent worker with limited to no protections.

Whether you provide your own insurance or not, you need to schedule a consultation with an attorney before out-of-pocket expenses pile too high.

What if You Were Misclassified When Hired?

What if the circumstances are murkier? Who’s at fault isn’t always clear. Some companies classify employees as contractors to save money, but sometimes circumstances make the work relationship resemble an employee-employer relationship too closely.

Some laws place more emphasis on the conduct of the parties than in labels used in contracts that employees are forced to sign if they want to drive a cab, for example. This occurred in the 2017 Linton v. DeSoto Cab. Co. Inc. case, where the work provided by the employee was integral to the business. DeSoto had also provided the tools, including the cab, and only collected gate fees for business income. The case was sent back to trial court to reconsider evidence, clarifying that labels in contracts don’t set anything in stone. Were you misclassified as an employee?

Perhaps you were issued a company-owned cellphone or other equipment and tools to conduct business cost-free. The work you do is necessary and integral to the business. That supports an employee-employer relationship. If you were paid a franchise fee, you could be deemed an independent contractor. If you’re not paid wages or required to work a set schedule, that still makes the court raise an eyebrow.

What Options Do You Have?

More people choose to work as independent contractors, and the sharing economy is growing. The standard rules don’t apply to everyone, and many workers feel hung out to dry — especially when they can’t provide their own insurance. Even when they can, obstacles abound. Right now, companies aren’t required to step up when it comes to offering protection to contractors, and independent contractors aren’t eligible for typical workers’ compensation.

Independent workers must advocate for themselves in advance with companies and when forming relationships with third parties. Have insurance options for injuries and disability in place from the start. You may also be eligible for Social Security disability benefits and may want to pursue filing for disability through your county health department.

Beyond that, all injured workers have legal choices available to them, but the odds feel even more stacked against independent contractors. You may pursue a case for misclassification or sue for negligence for personal injury, for example.

When injured, you don’t have time to wait around. When an injury occurs on the job as an independent contractor, the circumstances and resolutions get murkier.

Seek treatment and put your health first — otherwise, you’re good to no one. Do your part and contact your company and insurance company, should you have a policy.

Gather all your information, and don’t be afraid to dig deeper. A consultation with a lawyer never hurts anyone, as does a conversation with those you work for to cultivate better protection policies for those who follow you.