A homeowner owned five mill houses that occasionally needed renovations and repair. She needed some HVAC work done, so a friend, who also served as her general contractor, introduced her to a worker. The homeowner agreed to pay the worker an hourly rate for a small project, which would be split between the worker and his son because the worker was limited due to a neck injury and a pending workers' compensation claim. The worker was told to submit time sheets to the homeowner. The homeowner did not withhold taxes from his pay. The worker provided his own tool belt and hammer. The homeowner occasionally lent out tools. The homeowner visited the houses to check on the work and make sure people were working. The worker was allowed to set his own hours.
The worker was assisting in setting a brace across the bottom of a deck when he hit the top of his head. Two days layer, he could barely move his arm, so he went to the emergency room. An MRI revealed three herniated disks and a torn disk with a pinched nerve. After the MRI, he was unable to work. He sought benefits from the homeowner.
Evidence showed that the worker visited the hospital the day before the accident for chest pains and listed his employer as a partnership between himself and his son.
The Industrial Commission denied the claim. The worker appealed.
Was the commission correct in rejecting an employer/employee relationship?
A. Yes. The evidence showed that the worker should be considered an independent contractor.
An employer/employee relationship was shown by the homeowner's requirement that the worker fill out time sheets and be paid hourly.
The owner of the property cannot be the general contractor for the property.
How the court ruled: A. The North Carolina Court of Appeals held that the worker was an independent contractor, and therefore, the homeowner was not liable for benefits. Moose v. Watkins, No. COA11-759 (N.C. Ct. App. 01/17/12).
The court said that the evidence tended to show that the worker had an independent business with his son. The son could be considered an assistant. Also, most of the people working on the houses were employees of the general contractor. The worker could set his own hours. The homeowner stopped by occasionally to check on the progress of the work but did not choose the work method. The worker worked for the homeowner for only three months and was hired to work on two specific projects.
B is incorrect. The court concluded that the evidence overall favored a finding that the worker was an independent contractor.
C is incorrect. The court explained that while it may be true that a homeowner cannot be considered the general contractor for the property, this case turned on whether the worker was an independent contractor or an employee.
This feature is not intended as instructional material or to replace legal advice.
February 16, 2012
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