Don’t let your employer tell you that you are an independent contractor and deny your New Jersey Workers Compensation Benefits. It doesn’t even matter if you signed a document agreeing that you are an independent contractor. State law, not an agreement between you and your employer, defines the difference between an independent contractor and an employee.
Recently, a man named Arthur Wirkijowski won his New Jersey Worker’s Compensation case against US Pack Courier Service after facing some challenges from the company’s insurance carrier.
Here are the facts: Although hired by US Pack as a truck driver, Wirkijowski signed an agreement stating that he was an independent contractor. However, Wirkijowski got his load through US Pack and returned his manifest to them at the end of each work day. He drove a truck with US Pack’s logo on it. He didn’t own the truck and it was kept at the company’s warehouse. He got paid every two weeks by US Pack and received instructions from a US Pack dispatcher. Wirkijowski hurt his back while uploading a skid from a box truck he was driving for US Pack.
After Wirkijowski filed a Claim Petition in the New Jersey Workers Compensation Court, US Packs’ insurance carrier denied the claim. They said that Wirkijowski was not an employee, but that he was an independent contractor. If they were right, they wouldn’t have to provide workers compensation benefits.
The judge disagreed. She correctly applied New Jersey Workers Compensation law. In New Jersey, the employer does not get to define “employment”. The law understands that when looking for work the employer and the employee do not have equal bargaining power. If left to their own devices, all employers would have prospective employees sign independent contractor agreements and avoid their obligations under the law.
As the judge indicated, the Workers’ Compensation Act is to be interpreted to bring as many cases as possible under its coverage. The judge noted that work as a courier was an essential part of US Pack’s business; Wirkijowski worked there full time and depended on US Pack for income; and that the company controlled the way Wirkijowski performed his work. She correctly applied the law and found that Wirkijowski was an employee and, therefore, entitled to full workers compensation benefits.
Manfred Ricciardelli is an attorney with 20 years of experience handling Workers Compensation claims. For more information on work-related injuries, you can contact us at (973) 285-1100.