WHAT DETERMINES IF A WORKER IS AN EMPLOYEE OR AN INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR?
Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
Knorp v. Albert, 29 Kan. App. 2d 509, 28 P.3d 1024 (2001).
This case addresses the following issue:
What determines if a worker is an employee or an independent contractor?
The law treats employees and independent contractors very differently. Everything from how the worker is taxed to whether or not an employer is liable for the worker’s torts turn on whether the worker is an employee or independent contractor. This was the task assigned to the court in this case. Id. at 510. Ultimately, the court found that the Defendant was an employee of the hospital, rather than an independent contractor. Id. at 517.
Defendant was a doctor that worked for a municipal hospital in Harper County, Kansas. Id. at 510. He signed an employment agreement with the hospital, which included a provision requiring Defendant to treat any and all patients admitted to the hospital. Id. at 516. The hospital purchased all tools necessary for Defendant’s work treating patients, as well as provided the space for his work. Id. The contract also set Defendant’s hours and prevented him from taking another position while under contract with the hospital. Id. Plaintiff sued Defendant under the Kansas Tort Claims Act, which requires that a plaintiff provide written notice to a municipality before filing suit based on the negligence of a municipal employee; there is no requirement if the negligence is of an independent contractor. Id. at 511.
The most important factor looked upon by Kansas courts for determining if a worker is an employee or independent contractor is the “control test.” Id. at 513. This test looks at whether the employer has the right to control and supervise the work performed, including the manner and means of accomplishing the work. Id. at 513-14. Though control is the most important factor, the court also considers the nature of the job, the skill required for the job, the specialty—if any—of the worker, who provides the tools to complete the job, where the job is performed, how the worker is paid (hourly or by the job), and the assignments compared to the employer’s regular business. Id. at 514.
Looking at these factors, the court found that Defendant was an employee, not an independent contractor. Id. at 517. The hospital utilized great control over the Defendant’s work as a doctor, including the ability to dictate which patients Defendant treated and Defendant’s hours. Id. at 516. Further, the hospital did not allow Defendant to work for any other medical facilities and the hospital provided all tools and resources for Defendant’s work. Id. These factors all suggested that Defendant was an employee. Id. at 517.