Understanding your rights after you’ve been injured on the job in Georgia
In the current employment landscape, many people have moved away from traditional office jobs and now do what some call “gig work.” Workers employed in these types of jobs, including personal shoppers, telemarketers, call-center workers, delivery drivers, cable installers and more, are often hired as freelancers or independent contractors.
As an independent contractor, in exchange for the freedom to set your own hours and work from home, you give up benefits such as health insurance, a 401(k) plan and, in many cases, workers’ compensation. This trade-off might seem worth it if the work and hours fit your lifestyle. However, some employers take advantage of their employees by purposely misclassifying them so they can save money on insurance and other costs.
A common misconception is that employers have free reign to decide how to classify their employees, but this isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, the nature of your job—and the duties and responsibilities it entails—determines whether you can be classified as an independent contractor or employee.
What happens if you’re misclassified by an employer?
If you’ve been misclassified as a freelancer or independent contractor, you could lose out on significant benefits and wages. Being misclassified could mean getting denied workers’ compensation to cover your medical bills if you get injured on the job.,
Your boss may try to tell you that you can’t file a claim because you are an independent contractor or freelancer. This would leave you to cover the costs of any medical bills you incur out-of-pocket, including prescriptions, diagnostic exams, necessary medical procedures and hospital stays. If you need rehabilitation services or coverage for disability, you’d also be out of luck.
Even if you have your own health insurance, your medical bills and lost wages could cost you several thousand dollars or more, putting you at risk for a financial catastrophe.
Why would an employer intentionally misclassify you?
You might assume that most business operators have good ethics and would never misclassify workers to save money. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Even large employers such as Uber have been sued because of misclassifying workers. If you have a work-related injury, it pays to not take your employer at their word if you’re told that you are an independent contractor and are not eligible for workers’ compensation coverage.
Workers’ compensation insurance is expensive for companies, and they may list only certain types of low-risk workers, such as office help, as employees. Meanwhile, they may classify other workers with more labor-intensive and higher-risk jobs as independent contractors in order to avoid paying high insurance premiums on those workers.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), putting workers into the wrong class causes problems not just for employees but also for employers and the economy as a whole. If you’re not classified as an employee, your employer can also avoid paying for overtime work and is not required to pay minimum wage. Although an exception was made during the pandemic, independent contractors don’t typically qualify for Georgia unemployment insurance either, and there’s no guarantee that companies will have to continue offering unemployment funds in the future.
Federal authorities are aware of this situation, and estimates show that over 3 million workers may be misclassified. Companies that misclassify their workers and get caught can be penalized with fines and even prison time.
Determining your proper classification
Your employer might have you sign an agreement stating that you’re not an employee, but that doesn’t always make it so. You’d be surprised how many employers try to avoid their legal responsibilities to their employees by falsely telling them they are independent contractors and therefore ineligible for benefits.
Some people falsely believe that workers automatically fall into the independent contractor category if they work from home. This is simply not true. In fact, you may still be classified as an employee even if you:
- Work from home
- Sign an independent contractor agreement
- Receive paperwork from your employer that says you work for a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC)
- Don’t show on the company’s payroll
- Receive a 1099 form at tax time (instead of a W-2) from your employer
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) dictates the rules that determine your employment status with an employer. At a high level, if your employer has the authority and right to direct your work or control your job tasks and how you accomplish them, you are acting as an employee. In determining employment status, the IRS considers factors that include:
- Who provides the equipment or tools
- The method of paying workers
- Whether an employer can fire workers
- Whether an employer has the right to assert control over a worker
These guidelines might seem fairly straightforward, but they encompass many nuances because of the variety of different work situations and circumstances that exist. It’s not as simple as it seems to determine your employment status, which makes it important for any injured workers to seek expert advice before accepting their employer’s word on a workers’ compensation matter.
How to file a Georgia workers’ comp claim
If you’ve experienced an injury on the job, be aware that you may in fact be able to file a workers’ compensation claim even if your employer has informed you that you don’t have any workers’ comp insurance coverage due to your employment status as an independent contractor.
Some employers make this mistake unintentionally, but it makes sense to speak with an attorney to verify the options available to you. A qualified attorney can review the details of your employment and assist you in determining any misclassifications.
If you have a right to workers’ compensation benefits, an experienced attorney can help you interpret your specific work status and sort through all the details of the workers’ compensation system to get the financial benefits that you deserve and need to remedy your medical and financial situations.
What if your claim is denied?
Once you take steps to contact an attorney, keep in mind that your claim may be denied, but don’t let this put you off because you can always appeal this denial.
While there is a time limit on filing a claim, you should be allowed to contest your work status by testifying and presenting evidence in a workers’ compensation hearing. Your employer (or their insurance company) will likely work with an attorney to testify and present evidence on their own behalf as well. The final decision in your case will be made by the workers’ compensation commissioner.
When you hire a workers’ compensation attorney, you’ll have the benefit of a knowledgeable team to help you gather evidence on your employment status, meet important court dates and prepare information to address any claims your employer makes.