In a recent case in New Jersey, Luz Lukasik agreed to provide house cleaning services for Marguerite Hollaway.  Ms. Lukasik had several other homes that she cleaned in addition to the Hollaway residence.  The parties agreed that Ms. Hollaway would pay Ms. Lukasik $100 per day to clean her home.  On her first day on the job, Ms. Lukasik fell off a stool and fractured her hand.  She obtained medical care, but eventually came back to the Hollaway house one more day to clean.  On that second day, she had helpers do the work, and in fact did not actually do any of the  work herself.  Disagreements arose over who was to purchase the cleaning supplies, and Ms. Lukasik never returned to do any more work at the Hollaway residence after that second day.  

Ms. Lukasik filed a workers’ compensation claim asserting that she was employed by  Ms. Hollaway when she was injured that first day on the job.  The Judge of Compensation found that Ms. Lukasik was an employee under the “right of control test.”  The Judge focused on the fact that Ms. Hollaway picked the day of the week for the work to be done, expected Ms. Lukasik to clean on a regular basis, and had the ability to direct her work, even if she chose not to do so.  In other words, the Workers’ Compensation Judge found that Ms. Hollaway controlled Ms. Lukasik’s work activities such that she would be considered an employee.  The Judge then awarded partial permanency benefits to Ms. Lukasik under the workers’ compensation statute.   Ms. Hollaway appealed on the theory that Mr. Lukasik was an independent contractor, and not an employee subject to the workers’ compensation laws. 

On appeal, the Appellate Division found that there was insufficient control of Ms. Lukasik’s work activities to constitute an employer/employee relationship. The Court relied on the fact that Ms. Hollaway did not control how Ms. Lukasik did her cleaning, what supplies she used, or who did the cleaning. The court pointed to the fact that on the second day of cleaning Ms. Lukasik did not do any of the cleaning herself, but rather directed her daughter and a friend to do the work.  The court stated that if Ms. Lukasik was an employee she would not have the option to substitute another worker in her place.  Moreover since Ms. Lukasik purchased her own cleaning supplies and set her own price, the court found that Ms. Hollaway did not control Ms. Lukasik’s work, and therefore she was not an employee eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.  The law holds that true independent contractors are NOT eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.  For any questions regarding your right to workers’ compensation benefits please call the law firm of Stark and Stark.

Marci Hill Jordan is a Shareholder in Stark & Stark’s Marlton, New Jersey office, concentrating in Workers’ Compensation Law. For more information, please contact Ms. Jordan.