The recent New Jersey Appeals Court case of Liranzo v. Morales Auto Repair & Junior Morales took another look at what was required to decide how the Workers’ Compensation Law applies to an injured worker.
The Workers’ Compensation Law gives a person the right to make a claim against his or her employer if they were injured in the course of their employment. However, the person must be an employee and there are a number of questions that need to be answered:
- Who controls the means and the manner of the work performance?
- Is the job supervised or unsupervised?
- What is the skill needed to do the job?
- Who furnishes the equipment and the workplace?
- What is the length of time in which the person has worked?
- What is the method of payment?
- How does the relationship terminate?
- Is there annual leave?
- Is the work is an integral part of the business of the “employer”?
- Does the worker accrue retirement benefits?
- Does the “employer” pay social security taxes?
- What is the intention of the parties in the relationship?
In addition to these 12 things, a court that later reviews the situation must also consider the employer’s economic dependence on the work–meaning it must ask whether the worker was performing job functions of a regular employee that the business relied on. A court should also assess how independent or separate the worker’s labor was to the business.
In this case, the injured worker claimed that he was an employee. He testified at a hearing that the owner of the auto repair business hired him to perform general mechanic work for $350 a week. His first week on the job, the worker stated that the owner told him to install a sign at their new location. While installing this sign, the worker fell from a ladder and injured his hand. He was taken to the hospital and operated on the following day. The worker testified that he lost some functionality of his right hand.
After this injury, the worker got unemployment benefits for the next two years; but those benefits were based his work for a previous employer. He listed his previous employer because he did not believe he would be able to collect benefits based on his work arrangement at the auto repair shop.
The owner testified at the hearing that the worker was hired for the sole purpose of cleaning up their new location for a one-time payment of $1,000. The owner never gave the worker a uniform and the worker used his own tools to clean the premises. The owner also testified that there was no direct supervision of the worker and that the never told him to install a sign. After the injury, the owner would check up on the injured worker and paid him an additional $500 for his pain medication.
The judge hearing the case decided in favor of the injured worker, but did not explain why. The Appellate Court could not decide whether the injured worker was an employee, because the trial judge did not give any concrete reasoning or facts to support his decision. Since there were no factual conclusions drawn by the judge–especially since there were two different accounts of the working arrangement–the judgment could neither be reviewed or upheld. The higher court voided the decision and sent the case back to the lower court judge.
A judge must state why they find a worker is an employee or is not an employee by clearly applying the facts of the case to the 12 factors to determine whether an employer liable under the Worker’s Compensation Act; if they do not then the judgment and reward may be vacated, forcing both worker and employer to do it all over again.
Aleksandra Syniec, who wrote this post, is a second-year law student at Seton Hall University School of Law. She is also knowledgeable in landlord-tenant law and the information technology. We are pleased to welcome her as a new contributor