Many Vermont industries rely on seasonal workers to fill critical worker shortages during parts of the year. Many are hired to work on farms during the summer and fall, or they work in the tourist industry. Vermont is a destination for skiers and those enjoying the snow, so seasonal employment opportunities are as plentiful in the winter months as they are in the summer.
Like any other worker, seasonal employees can suffer terrible injuries while working. You probably know that Vermont employers must purchase workers’ compensation insurance. But are you covered if you are hurt at work? And what benefits are available? OurVermont workers’ compensation lawyers answer these questions below.
Can a Seasonal Worker Qualify for Workers’ Compensation?
Yes. Under Vermont law, a seasonal employee is eligible to receive compensation if they were injured while working. You obviously can’t receive compensation if you were injured outside of work—and that’s the rule for all employees, not just seasonal ones. So if you injure yourself while playing basketball with your sons, then that’s not a work-related injury.
Seasonal employees are sometimes hired for only a few weeks or for several months. But the duration of your employment doesn’t matter. You should be covered from the very first day you start working.
There is a catch, however.
Independent Contractors Are Not Covered
Are you an employee or are you really an independent contractor? Under the law, independent contractors are not covered by workers’ compensation. And, what should surprise no one, many businesses like to classify their seasonal help as independent contractors.
How do you know if you are an employee or an independent contractor? First, look at your paycheck. If you are a W-2 employee, then your employer will deduct your FICA taxes and send them to the federal government. If you are a contractor, then an employer takes no deduction. Instead, independent contractors are issued 1099 forms at the end of the year.
Are You Really an Independent Contractor?
This is a bit of a gray area. Vermont uses a test to determine who is an independent contractor for workers’ comp purposes. If you do work that is outside the normal scope of business and are free of supervision, then you are an independent contractor. Everyone else is an employee. This test trumps whatever label your employer wants to use. They can call you an “independent contractor,” but what really matters are the factors listed here.
Think of a ski lodge that hires a person to do some landscaping in the summer. This person maintains their own business and is hired to do a discrete task: plant flowers. The ski lodge is not in the business of providing flowers to people, so the landscaper is doing work outside the normal scope of business. They are also not directly supervised in how to do their job. Thus, they are an independent contractor.
By contrast, you might be hired in the summer to cook in a restaurant. You are under the supervision of the head chef, and providing food is the whole point of a restaurant. Here, you could very well be an employee even if the restaurant owner is claiming you are an independent contractor.
Businesses have an incentive to misclassify their workers. They can pay less in workers’ compensation and unemployment compensation insurance. They also can avoid legal liability for accidents—all because they claim a worker is really an independent contractor.
Get objective advice from an experienced Vermont workers’ compensation attorney at Larson & Gallivan.
Are Seasonal Employees More at Risk of Suffering Accidents?
Possibly. Someone who is a seasonal worker might have less experience and receive less training than a year-round employee. It is much easier for a worker to get injured on the job. Also, some businesses might have their seasonal employees do the most dangerous jobs—especially if they are classifying you as an independent contractor.
All workers deserve a safe workplace. And if an employer is lax, you should consider whether you have a legal claim against them.
What Should a Seasonal Worker Do After Getting Hurt?
You should report the accident immediately to your supervisor or employer. That gets the ball rolling. Your employer then has 72 hours (three days) to submit a claim to their workers’ compensation insurer or notify the state’s Department of Labor.
Follow up with your employer to see that they submitted your report. If they didn’t, you can submit Form 5 yourself or contact an attorney.
You should try to document your accident and injury. Receiving prompt medical care helps create a record of your injuries. Identify any witnesses who saw you get injured. They can provide crucial information. Although workers’ compensation benefits are no-fault, some disputes arise about how you were really injured.
After a claim is submitted, your employer’s insurer should decide within 21 days whether to approve or deny your claim. Some reasons for denial are alleging that your injury was pre-existing or that you intentionally injured yourself. Contact an attorney if you receive a denial, as there is an appeals process.
What Benefits Can I Receive as a Seasonal Worker?
Workers’ compensation benefits can cover all medical care that is necessary and reasonable to treat your work injuries. So if you fractured vertebrae in your back, you should not have to pay for diagnostic tests, doctor visits, specialist visits, surgery, rehab, or prescription medication. Your employer’s insurer should cover all of it, including travel expenses, if necessary.
Workers’ compensation also covers some lost wages based on a formula. Speak with an attorney if you have questions.
One tradeoff with workers’ compensation is that you can’t sue your employer if you receive benefits. But this bar disappears if you are an independent contractor and your boss’ negligence is to blame for your accident.
Contact Us to Learn More
Seasonal workers power the Vermont economy and should be treated fairly when hurt on the job. Larson & Gallivan Law is an established law firm with a history of helping injured workers navigate the system for receiving benefits. Call us today, 802-327-8458, to speak with a team member.