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Workers’ Compensation for Georgia’s Independent Contractors

The state of Georgia established the system of workers’ compensation to provide benefits to employees for medical treatment and wages while they recover from an on-the-job injury.
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A key element of successfully arguing for these benefits, however, is proving that you are an employee. For those who work as independent contractors, this is more complicated than you might think – but it’s not impossible, despite the fact that Georgia’s workers’ compensation law doesn’t technically cover independent contractors.

However, many independent contractors are wrongly classified by the employer in the first place. That is, just because a company labels a worker as an independent contractor, using a form 1099 for withholding taxes, does not necessarily mean that the person would not be considered an employee under state law.

Generally speaking, if the company controls the time, manner and means of employment, the worker is going to be considered an employee rather than an independent contractor – no matter what the company says. That means if an on-the-job injury occurs to one of these “contractors,” he or she may still be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.

A good example of this was recently illustrated in the case of Shatto v. McLeod Regional Medical Center, reviewed by the South Carolina Supreme Court.

According to court records, the worker in question was a certified nurse anesthetist. She had decades of nursing experience, most of it in Pennsylvania. It was only recently that she accepted a shorter-term position through a staffing agency.

Through the agency’s placement, she was hired to work at a small hospital in South Carolina. She was not given an employment contract directly with the hospital, but she did have an employment contract with the staffing agency. In turn, the agency had an agreement with the hospital.

During one shift five years ago, while helping to put a patient under anesthesia in the operating room, she suffered a fall and was hurt. She was treated at the hospital. Shortly thereafter, she was dismissed from her job.

She subsequently pursued workers’ compensation claims against both the hospital and the staffing agency.

There was little question that the injury had occurred while she was working. The bigger issue, however, was whether she was entitled to pursue the claim based on her status. Was she and employee or independent contractor?

The hospital, which had initially called her an employee, later argued that she an independent contractor, meaning it did not have to cover her benefits.A reviewing commissioner found that the worker was in fact an employee of the hospital. As such, she was entitled to pursue a workers’ compensation claim.

The hospital appealed the decision. An appellate panel affirmed the commissioner’s decision. The hospital then took the appeal to the court of appeals. That court reversed the commission’s findings, holding that the worker was an independent contractor.

Then the worker appealed. In reviewing the case, the state supreme court reversed the appellate court’s decision, finding that the nurse was in fact a hospital employee.

In reaching its conclusion, the high court focused on the issue of control: Did the employer have the right to control the claimant in her performance of her work?

The court found that the nurse was legally an employee of the hospital in all ways except method of payment. All the rest of it – especially evidence of control and furnishing equipment – supported the claim that there was a solid employee-employer relationship between the nurse and the hospital.

If you or a loved one has been injured on the job, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., to speak with an experienced attorney. For a free consultation call 1-404-303-7770 today.

Additional Resources:
Shatto v. McLeod Regional Medical Center, Dec. 18, 2013, State of Supreme Court for South Carolina
More Blog Entries:
Atlanta Work Accidents: Employee Safety in Emergency Situations, Oct. 4, 2013, Atlanta Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog