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House Cleaner Injured on First Day of Work Was an Independent Contractor Not Covered Under Comp

By on August 23, 2012 in Compensability with 0 Comments

Luz Lukasik agreed to provide house cleaning services for Marguerite Hollaway and two others.  Respondents contacted Lukasik after hearing about her from an acquaintance.  At that time she was cleaning five or six other houses and one office building on a regular basis.  Petitioner Lukasik and her daughter went to the home of respondents and examined the house.  A discussion occurred about the potential for doing laundry, but petitioner declined, stating that she would consider that in the future.  The parties did agree to $100 per day for cleaning services.

On January 16, 2007 petitioner came to the respondents’ home with a friend and began cleaning, using the supplies furnished by respondent.  Within the first hour on the job, petitioner fell off a stool and injured her hand.  An ambulance was called and petitioner received treatment for hand fractures.  She came to the house on another occasion but directed someone else and her daughter in doing the cleaning.  She told respondents that she needed to purchase supplies and expected to be reimbursed for those costs. Thereafter, respondent refused to pay her for the cleaning and supplies.

Petitioner filed a workers’ compensation claim asserting that she was employed by respondents when she was injured.  The Judge of Compensation ruled in petitioner’s favor and held she was an employee.  The Judge focused on the right of control test and noted that respondents set the day for the work to be done, expected her to provide this service on a regular basis, and had the ability to direct her work even if they chose not to do so.  The Judge found 45% of the hand or $22,170.75.

 Respondent appealed and contended that petitioner was an independent contractor under either the “control” test or the “relative nature of the work” test. The Appellate Division reversed in Lukasik v. Marguerite Holloway, A-5913-10T3 (App.Div. August 22, 2012) holding that there was insufficient control of petitioner’s work activities to constitute an employer/employee relationship.  The Court said that respondent did not control how petitioner did her cleaning, what supplies she used, or who did the cleaning.  There was no discussion about the specific day of the week petitioner would clean and no agreement that petitioner herself would do the cleaning.  In fact, on the second day of cleaning petitioner did no cleaning herself but directed her daughter and a friend.  “An employee would not have the option to produce helpers or a substitute to do the employee’s work.”

Other factors that argued against employment were that respondents set a price of $100 per day rather than pay wages to each of the persons performing the cleaning work.  Additionally, petitioner herself purchased the supplies for the second cleaning and determined what equipment to use.  Further, there was no proof of economic dependence by petitioner on respondents.  “We conclude that respondents did not control petitioner’s work to the extent that an employer controls the work of an employee.”

This case is an interesting one, particularly since New Jersey decisions seldom come down on the side of independent contractor status.  The case does not mean that all home cleaners are independent contractors.  As the Court stressed, the facts of each case must be considered.

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About the Author

About the Author:

John H. Geaney, a shareholder and co-chair of Capehart Scatchard's Workers' Compensation department, began an email newsletter entitled Currents in Workers’ Compensation, ADA and FMLA in 2001 in order to keep clients and readers informed on leading developments in these three areas of law. Since that time he has written over 500 newsletter updates.

Mr. Geaney is the author of Geaney’s New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Manual for Practitioners, Adjusters & Employers. The manual is distributed by the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education (NJICLE). He also authored an ADA and FMLA manual as distributed by NJICLE. If you are interested in purchasing the manual, please contact NJICLE at 732-214-8500 or visit their website at www.njicle.com.

Mr. Geaney represents employers in the defense of workers’ compensation, ADA and FMLA matters. He is a Fellow of the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers of the American Bar Association and is certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a workers’ compensation law attorney. He is one of two firm representatives to the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network. He has served on the Executive Committee of Capehart Scatchard for over ten (10) years.

A graduate of Holy Cross College summa cum laude, Mr. Geaney obtained his law degree from Boston College Law School. He has been named a “Super Lawyer” by his peers and Law and Politics. He serves as Vice President of the Friends of MEND, the fundraising arm of a local charitable organization devoted to promoting affordable housing.

Capehart Scatchard is a full service law firm with offices in Mt. Laurel and Trenton, New Jersey. The firm represents employers and businesses in a wide variety of areas, including workers’ compensation, civil litigation, labor, environmental, business, estates and governmental affairs.

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