Massachusetts Court Discusses Employees in the Context of Workers’ Compensation

People hurt at work may be able to recover workers’ compensation benefits from their employer, but in exchange for such benefits, they are precluded from seeking damages in tort for their harm. Whether they are eligible to seek workers’ compensation benefits or civil damages depends, in part, on whether they are employees or independent contractors. In a recent Massachusetts case, the court discussed what evidence is needed to establish a person is an employee as defined by the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act), in a case in which it ultimately affirmed the plaintiff’s employee status barred him from recovering damages in tort. If you sustained harm while working, it is in your best interest to confer with a Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney to determine what benefits you may be owed.

History of the Case

It is reported that the plaintiff was injured while operating a forklift at the defendant employer’s warehouse where he worked. He filed a lawsuit against the defendant, the warehouse owner, and the forklift manufacturer, alleging negligence. Following discovery, the defendant employer moved for dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims via summary judgment on the grounds that they were immune from liability under the workers’ compensation law because the defendant was the plaintiff’s employer. The court granted the defendant’s motion. Four years later, the plaintiff appealed.

Employees vs. Independent Contractors in the Context of Workers’ Compensation Claims

On appeal, the court first looked at whether the matter was properly before it; it ultimately found that although the appeal was filed four years after the ruling was not barred or waived.

The court then looked at the merits of the plaintiff’s argument. In doing so, it explained that it employs a two-part test to determine if an employer has immunity under the workers’ compensation law. First, there must be a direct employment relationship. Second, the employer must be liable for workers’ compensation payments.

On the first part, the court examined who controlled and directed the plaintiff’s work to determine if there was an employer-employee relationship. The court found undisputed facts showing the defendant hired, trained, supervised, and controlled the plaintiff’s work duties and hours. This established the defendant was the employer despite another company handling payroll and benefits.

On the second part, the court found the defendant carried its own workers’ compensation insurance and was liable for the payments, satisfying this requirement for immunity. The court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the payroll company was his “general” employer, finding no evidence they had any control over his work.

Since the defendant was the employer and liable for the benefits, the court ruled they were immune from suit under the exclusive remedy provision of the workers’ compensation law. As such, the court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Meet with a Seasoned Massachusetts Attorney

The Act permits workers’ compensation benefits for job-related injuries, but in exchange for such benefits, employees waive the right to pursue tort claims. If you were injured at work, talking to an attorney can help you understand your options. James K. Meehan of the Law Office of James K. Meehan is a seasoned Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer who can inform you of your rights and avenues for seeking a fair outcome. You can reach Mr. Meehan to schedule a meeting through the form online or by calling him at 508-822-6600.