FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2012-04-02
One of an employer’s strongest arguments against a workers’ compensation claim is that the person filing for benefits was not an employee at the time of the accident. This is often seen with independent contractors, since they are generally not covered by North Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation Act.
North Carolina law defines an employee within this Act broadly. The scope includes “every person engaged in an employment under any appointment or contract of hire or apprenticeship, express or implied, oral or written, including aliens, and also minors, whether lawfully or unlawfully employed.”
A recent case called the court to review the employer/employee relationship under a new light in a confusing workplace situation. In this case, the employer argued the petitioner was not an employee, which was originally supported by the fact that company protocol was not followed in the hiring process.
Details of North Carolina Appeals Court Decision
The case involved a supervisor who improperly hired a worker. The supervisor led the worker to believe the offer for employment was official even though he did not have hiring authority. The supervisor stated to the worker that not only was he hired by the company, but also that he would receive company paychecks and detailed a payment schedule.
The supervisor’s authority over the work environment was supported by observations of other employees following his orders. The worker accepted the position and was directed to clean a machine. During the job, the worker’s hand was crushed and he suffered a “near amputation” injury and has yet to regain use of his hand.
Ultimately, the court found it unreasonable to expect every job applicant to determine if the person who hires them has the authority to do so. The worker qualified as an employee and was eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits because of the fact that the worker was completing a task that benefited the company when injured and that he was unaware of the supervisor’s lack of authority to officially hire for the company.
Impact on Future Claims
The court’s ruling supports a broader interpretation of who qualifies as an employee in workers’ compensation claims. However, the fact that confusing workplace situations can lead to these disputes is concerning.
Filing for workers’ compensation benefits is an arduous and often intimidating process. As a result, it is helpful to seek the counsel of an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer to avoid or fight denied claims.