Although the facts of the South Carolina Supreme Court case of Lewis v. L.B. Dynasty, in which a stripper was shot in a bar fight, are racier than most workers’ compensation lawsuits, the underlying issue of employers mis-classifying workers is quite common.
In virtually all states, most companies of a certain size are required to carry workers’ compensation coverage for each worker employed, in the event of injury. But business owners often attempt to sidestep this requirement by asserting that the workers are not in fact “employees” by legal definition. Instead, the workers are classified as “independent contractors,” for whom workers’ compensation insurance is not required.
The courts have taken on this issue and have generally come to the consensus that just because a worker is labeled as an independent contractor doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is. An analysis is applied to determine if that classification is accurate. Usually, it involves the degree of control the firm had over the worker’s day-to-day tasks, whether equipment was provided to the worker, whether the worker had the choice to turn down certain jobs and how the worker was paid.
Our South Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers recognize that the whole purpose of the benefits program is to ensure workers have access to prompt medical attention and financial support as they recover from a work-related injury. Our goal is to help them secure it.
In the Lewis case, the worker in question was an exotic dancer. She worked between five and seven days in a week, and traveled to various establishments in both North and South Carolina in order to perform.
She performed at defendant club in particular on three different occasions. When she arrived, she presented ID indicating she was old enough to perform, reviewed the rule sheet and paid a tip-out fee of $70. She performed stage dances, table dances and V.I.P dances, which she was required to do anytime a patron made a request for one. Minimum prices were established for these performances, which had to be done in a certain area and a portion of the proceeds went back to the club.
The defendant club chose her rotation, as well as her music. The club had a specific list of rules regarding which undergarments could be removed and fined dancers for removing too much. The club did not set times when dancers were required to work, but it did set up a schedule once they arrive, and they weren’t allowed to leave prior to the end of their shift unless they paid a fine. A fine was also required if the dancer didn’t perform on stage during her assigned time.
Repeated violations or failure to pay fines could result in a dancer being fired.
On the day in question, a fight broke out in the club. A stray bullet struck the plaintiff in the abdomen, and resulted in severe damages to her internal organs. She lost a kidney and sustained substantial scarring.
She later filed a claim for workers’ compensation, requesting temporary total disability and medical benefits from the date of the incident.
The company, represented by the state uninsured employer’s fund, disputed the claim, arguing she was an independent contractor, not an employee.
The single commissioner determined she was an independent contractor, and the full commission affirmed as did the appellate court. However, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed.
First of all, workers’ compensation law is to be construed liberally in favor of the worker. Secondly, the crux of the determination of employee versus independent contractor here had to do with the employer’s right to control claimant in the performance of work. While the court noted there were unique details in this particular arrangement, the club did exercise significant control over plaintiff’s work, and thus created an employee-employer relationship – even if the club didn’t call it that.
Though the club argued it didn’t control her routine, it did exercise significant control over her capacity as an entertainer, in light of all available facts. Thus, workers’ compensation was awarded.
If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
Lewis v. L.B. Dynasty, March 18, 2015, South Carolina Suprem Court
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