What Do You Think: Was Trucker with Back Injury his Transportation Broker’s ‘Employee’?

14 Jan, 2024 Chris Parker

                               

New Hope, PA (WorkersCompensation.com) Employees can wear many hats. But does a company hat make a worker an “employee?” Along with a few factors that are especially relevant to distinguishing which truckers are employees, and which are independent contractors, one recent Pennsylvania case considers the significance of wearing a company hat.

The commercial delivery driver in that case worked for a transportation broker. The broker assigned him driving assignments with various clients. The driver was permitted to accept or reject assignments, without repercussion, although he later testified he did not feel he could decline assignments. 

The company would email him information from the clients as to his assignments, arrival time, the address, and the items he was supposed to deliver. He was responsible for getting himself to the clients’ place of business, and he drove the clients’ trucks. In practice, there were a lot of jobs he didn’t take.

At one point, the company gave him a hat with the company’s logo on it which he could wear if wanted to. Aside from the hat, he wore his own clothes.

One day, the driver reportedly hurt his back unloading a window from a truck during one of his routes.

The workers’ compensation board denied his claim on the basis that he was not the broker’s employee.

The driver appealed.

The court stated that for a claimant to receive workers’ compensation benefits, there must be an employer-employee relationship. An independent contractor is not entitled to benefits. To determine who is an employee, courts consider various factors.

One of the most telling, the court explained, is whether the company has control over the work and the manner in which it is to be performed.

When it comes to truckers, the court stated, courts also consider:

  • The degree of supervision and control over delivery routes; and
  • The timing of work or schedule. 

Was the driver the broker’s employee?
A. Yes. The broker’s provision of job details to the driver showed that it controlled the manner in which jobs were to be performed.
B. No. The broker didn’t tell him how to complete the jobs; it just gave him the information the clients sent.

If you selected B, you agreed with the court in Ayala v. Fundamental Labor Strategies, Inc., No. 1037 C.D. 2022 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 01/02/24), which held that the driver was an independent contractor.

The court pointed out that the broker did not dictate which jobs the driver had to take or how he should perform them. Although the broker sent the driver job details, those details came from the clients.

The court acknowledged that the driver indicated he felt pressure not to reject jobs. Nevertheless, the evidence demonstrated that he was free to reject offered jobs without repercussion, and that he often did so.

The court also rejected the notion that the hat bore significance. The hat was a gift, and the worker was not required to wear it at any time. The fact that he had no uniform at all underlined the fact that he was not a company employee.

The court affirmed the board’s determination that the driver was not an employee and thus not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.


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