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Employee, Not Independent Contractor: Truck Driver Awarded Workers’ Compensation Benefits

EmployeeA truck driver was recently awarded workers’ compensation benefits because he was able to prove that he was an employee, not an independent contractor. His case offers a worthwhile look into what determines employee status, and how it could impact eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits in Illinois.

Lemin v. Al-Amin Brothers Transportation

Mr. Lemin was a truck driver who delivered freight for Al-Amin Brothers Transportation, an over-the-road, “less than truckload” refrigerated carrier servicing the food industry. Mr. Lemin transported product to the East Coast for the company’s customers, starting each Friday. While Al-Amin did not tell Mr. Lemin which routes to take when making his weekly deliveries, the company did direct him as to what product to load and when and where to deliver it.

Mr. Lemin owned his own truck and paid for his overhead costs, including fuel, tolls, licensing, and company tags. As compensation, Al-Amin Brothers Transportation paid Mr. Lemin 70 percent of the revenue from the freight, plus unloading charges, fuel surcharges, and handling and gate fees. The company did not withhold any taxes from his paycheck, but it did deduct expenses for license plates and insurance. Mr. Lemin was also required to pass a drug test.

On Oct. 4, 2012, Mr. Lemin slipped and fell while unloading freight his truck, injuring his back. He considered himself an employee of Al-Amin Brothers Transportation, so he sought workers’ compensation benefits through the system in place in Illinois. (For a more detailed explanation of the Illinois worker’s compensation benefits system, please click here to learn more. )

Al-Amin Brothers Transportation, however, considered Mr. Lemin an independent contractor and therefore not eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.

Who was right? What is the difference between an employee and an independent contractor? And how would it affect access to workers’ compensation benefits in Illinois?

Employee vs. Independent Contractor

You are likely familiar with the concept of a traditional employee: Somebody who works for an employer for a salary or for an hourly wage, often with benefits such as health insurance, retirement accounts, and unemployment compensation.

An independent contractor, however, is considered a freelancer or a self-employed person who is paid to perform services for another person or business. How is that different from an employee?

Independent contractors usually have more control over how they do the job that they have been hired to do, such as setting their own hours, than employees usually do.

Because independent contractors are not typically classified as employees, the businesses hiring them do not withhold payroll taxes from the money paid to them, they typically are not entitled to unemployment benefits if they are fired, and they are usually not eligible for workers’ compensation benefits in Illinois.

Independent Contractors’ Rights

However, there are certain cases in which these “independent contractors” may potentially collect workers’ compensation benefits under Illinois law – when they are really mislabeled employees.

The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission (IWCC) takes a number of factors into consideration when determining whether a worker is a true independent contractor or an employee in all but name only.

The key factor in making this determination is control. Employees differ from independent contractors because employers have more control over employees and how they do their jobs. But if employers exercise a similar level control over “independent contractors,” the IWCC may conclude that the workers in question are effectively employees.

Factors suggesting a similar level of control over an independent contractor may include the following:

  • The contractor is exclusively bound to work for the employer.
  • The contractor is given a schedule.
  • The contractor receives specific instructions on how to do the job.
  • The contractor has to wear a uniform.
  • The contractor receives materials or tools from the employer.

In these and other instances, the so-called “independent contractor” may actually be considered an employee eligible for workers’ compensation benefits for his or her injuries.

IWCC Finds “Control Asserted”

Upon reviewing the facts in the matter of Lemin v. Al-Amin Brothers Transportation, the IWCC found that the control asserted by Al-Amin over Mr. Lemin indicated an employment relationship. Examples of this assertion of control included the following:

  1. Mr. Lemin hauled freight exclusively for Al-Amin (“The contractor is exclusively bound to work for the employer”).
  2. Al-Amin predetermined Mr. Lemin’s deliveries, which commenced each week on Friday (“The contractor is given a schedule”).
  3. Al-Amin had the authority to discharge Mr. Lemin at will, which it exercised when it terminated him after he could no longer do the job.
  4. Mr. Lemin was required to pass a pre-employment drug screening in order to work for Al-Amin. While the Illinois Department of Transportation also requires a drug test for commercial truck drivers, the IWCC nevertheless found Al-Amin’s requirement indicative of an employment relationship.

The IWCC also noted several factors that could point to an independent contractor relationship, including Mr. Lemin’s ownership of his truck, his method of payment, his ability to hire his brother to perform loading services, and a lease agreement.

Ultimately, however, the IWCC concluded that the evidence taken as a whole predominantly supported a finding of an employment relationship, so Mr. Lemin was not disqualified from receiving workers’ compensation benefits.

The IWCC also determined that Mr. Lemin’s injuries arose out of and in the course of his employment, so it awarded him 43 weeks of Temporary Total Disability (TTD) benefits, reasonable and necessary medical benefits, and Permanent Partial Disability (PPD) benefits for 20 percent loss of use of the person as whole.

Chicago Workers’ Compensation Attorneys

As you may see from this example, even though someone has been injured on the job, that does not mean that he or she is automatically entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, particularly in cases where the proper classification of the worker is in question. If a worker is unable to prove that he or she is actually an employee, that worker may not qualify for the compensation he or she deserves. For this reason, many injured workers find that they might benefit from the guidance of an experienced and knowledgeable attorney, like the Chicago workers’ compensation attorneys at GWC Injury Lawyers, Illinois’ largest Workers’ Compensation and Personal Injury law firm.

If you have sustained a work injury or have questions about your rights under the workers’ compensation system in Illinois, please contact GWC today to schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys. Call our office at (312) 464-1234 or click here to chat with one of our representatives.