Massachusetts Supreme Court Reviews Difference Between an Employee and Independent Contractor in Workers’ Compensation Claim

Massachusetts workers’ compensation is available to employees of businesses who are injured while performing duties for the employer in the scope of their employment.  Whether or not benefits are issued to an injured person hinges on whether the injured person is considered to be an employee.  The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently reviewed in SJC 12368 whether or not an employee should be defined by the the workers’ compensation act in General Laws Section 152 or the independent contractor statute, found in G. L. c. 149,§ 148B. 

The injured person in this case worked as a delivery-woman for a company acting as a middleman to deliver publications to subscribers.  Over the course of her employment, she signed several contracts identifying her as an independent contractor.  She was given a route, but she had the freedom to choose the delivery time and path she liked as long as the deliveries were completed by 6 AM on weekdays and 8 AM on weekends.  The injured person made deliveries in her own car for 12 years.  She was paid based on each newspaper delivered, with an additional stipend for delivering papers to those who did not receive a scheduled delivery. 

In 2010, the appellant injured herself while loading papers in her car using a hand carriage.  She fell off a ramp and injured her right hand and right knee.  She reported it to her employer but continued on with her workday, seeking no medical treatment.  The injured person experienced another accident a few months later, slipping on ice while delivering papers and hurting her right leg.  For this injury, the injured person had to undergo two surgeries for her right leg and right hand. 

The injured delivery-woman filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits the following year.  The insurer objected, but the administrative judge directed the employer’s insurer to pay temporary total incapacity benefits.  The insurer then sought a hearing, at which the judge found the injured person to be an independent contractor and therefore ineligible for benefits.  The injured person appealed, but the Reviewing Board affirmed the denial. 

Massachusetts General Laws c. 152 defines who can receive the workers’ compensation benefits outlined in the statute.  Employees may receive benefits if they are a person in the service of another party under any contract of hire, express or implied, oral or written.  Case law has provided a more extensive analysis.  A 12-part test was created by the court in McTavish v. O’Connor Lumber Co., 6 Mass. Workers’ Comp. Rep. 174, 177 (1992).  Parts of this test look at the extent of control the employer has over the work, the type of occupation or business, whether it is a job done with supervision, the skill required of the profession, whether the employer or the workman supplies the tools, and the length of time the person is employed, along with other specific considerations. 

An independent contractor is also defined by the General Laws of Massachusetts, G. L. c. 149, § 148B.  This statute says an independent contractor is someone hired to do work but is free from control and direction regarding the performance of the service and working in an area outside the usual course of business of the employer.  The contractor is someone who regularly performs the work they are hired to do.  While an independent contractor is provided protections under the law regarding breaks and minimum wage, none of the benefits offered by the statutes extend to workers’ compensation benefits. 

The Court appreciated the different interpretations and tests that exist in different circumstances, but it focused on the legislative intent of providing the definitions most relevant to this appellant and her employment.  The determination of the reviewing board against the injured delivery woman was affirmed, foreclosing any possibility of receiving benefits.

Insurers and employers will try to avoid paying benefits, but the attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan have the Massachusetts workers’ compensation experience you need at your side to push back.  If you have a question about whether or not you can receive benefits, call our office today for a free, confidential consultation at 508-822-6600.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Reviewing Board Affirms Temporary Total Incapacity Benefits Award to Registered Nurse, November 16, 2017, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog

Massachusetts Appeals Court Allows Estate to Pursue Wrongful Death Medical Malpractice Action, February 5, 2018, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog