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Injured on the job? Why your worker classification matters

Injuries or illnesses suffered on the job that affect your ability to work can be very upsetting. Not only can your condition be painful, it can also lead to lost wages and increased medical expenses. As such, securing workers’ compensation can be crucial to ease the financial burden of a work-related condition.

However, not every worker in Illinois is eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. As we discussed in our last post, one factor that affects your benefits if you are injured on the job is your worker classification.

What type of worker are you?

In general, if you are an employee, your employer likely carries workers’ compensation insurance that covers workplace accident injuries. If you are an independent contractor, freelancer or other non-employee worker, however, you may not be covered under an employer.

Determining your classification will be crucial before or after a work-related injury or illness, and misclassification is not uncommon. Some people think they are employees but learn they are not, or they assume they are independent contractors and therefore ineligible for workers’ compensation when they are really employees.

Misclassification, intentional or not, can be a big problem for injured workers, so it is important to properly confirm your status. Just because your employment contract says you are an independent contractor does not mean you necessarily are one. To be an independent contractor, you must have a good deal of control over how you perform your job, including the tools and equipment you use. The more control an employer has over the terms of your employment, including the tools and methods you use to perform your work, the less likely it is that you can be properly classified as an independent contractor.

Signs that you may be an employee, not an independent contractor

Your contract is not the most important factor in determining whether you are an employee or independent contractor in Illinois. While courts will look at your contract and tax status, the most important line of questioning concerns the control you have over how and when you do your work.

Some signs that you may be an employee and not an independent contractor include if your employer:

  • Provides critical tools and equipment (for example, scaffolding or a cell phone) that you must use to do the job
  • Requires you to be at a job site at a certain time
  • Tells you the order in which you must do specific jobs or tasks
  • Provides training in how to do a job
  • Asks you to perform work that is a critical part of the employer’s business
  • Requires you to redo a job if the employer determines it wasn’t done correctly

The more of the above are true, the more likely it is that a court would determine that you are an employee, not an independent contractor, no matter what your contract says.

Options for non-employees

If you are self-employed, which is not unusual in the growing gig economy, you may choose to insurance coverage, especially if you work in an occupation that presents regular risks to your safety. However, many people do not buy their own coverage because of the cost.

Even if you are not covered by insurance, you may still have options after a work accident. Independent contractors and other self-employed workers may be able to file a lawsuit against an employer or other party after an accident. People who receive workers’ compensation generally cannot sue their employer, but those who are not eligible for such benefits may pursue these types of claims.

Taking control of your status and benefits

When it comes to workers’ compensation benefits after a work accident, it might feel like a lot is out of your control as an injured worker. However, with the help of an attorney, you can take charge of your situation by challenging worker misclassification, fighting for benefits for which you are eligible and examining other legal avenues to pursue financial support.

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