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Independent Contractors and Workers’ Compensation in Arizona

Independent Contractors and Workers’ Compensation

With the rise of the gig and freelance economies, more Arizonans work as independent contractors than ever before. Independent contractors face the same risks of work injuries and occupational illnesses that traditional employees face. However, Arizona workers’ compensation laws treat independent contractors differently.

Full or part-time employees who suffer a workplace injury or become sick on the job are typically entitled to benefits under Arizona’s workers’ compensation system. Not so for independent contractors. The law does not require employers to purchase coverage for independent contractors. This puts these workers in a precarious position if they’re hurt on the job.

However, there are cases where individuals are misclassified as independent contractors so that employers can avoid paying them for work injuries. If you believe that’s happened to you, get an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer at Matt Fendon Law Group on your side.

Since 2008, Matt Fendon has fought to protect the rights of injured workers in Phoenix, Flagstaff, Tucson, and the surrounding Arizona communities. Understanding the technicalities of the workers’ compensation system can be a challenge, especially when questions about your status as an independent contractor arise. Let us help determine your options for financial relief so you can get to work again.

Our legal team includes a board-certified and nationally recognized workers’ compensation attorneys with the knowledge needed to handle the most complex job injury claims. Call or contact us today for a free consultation.

What Is an Independent Contractor?

An independent contractor refers to a self-employed individual or a business entity contracted to do work or provide services to another person or entity as a non-employee. Examples include roofers, landscapers, housekeepers, truck drivers, and rideshare drivers.

What’s the Difference Between Employees and Independent Contractors?

Employees and independent contractors have many key differences, including:

  • Employees must have their income taxes and Social Security and Medicare contributions withheld from their pay. Independent contractors do not have any money withheld from their pay but instead remit their tax obligations themselves, usually in estimated quarterly payments.
  • Employees are entitled to the protections of various labor laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Fair Labor Standards Act. Independent contractors do not qualify for the protection of such laws.
  • Employees primarily derive their income from working for one employer. In contrast, independent contractors may work with several clients and advertise to provide services to different clients or customers.

By default, a worker is classified as an employee rather than an independent contractor. However, a worker may be misclassified as an independent contractor in Arizona if they meet the state’s “right to control” test. This test evaluates whether a worker or an employer has the “right to control” how work is performed.

With an independent contractor, an employer only has the right to dictate the results of the work. But with an employee, an employer can also control how the employee achieves those results. Factors that are considered under the right to control test include:

  • The duration of employment: Permanent, indefinite employment indicates employee status, while working on a project or fixed-term basis may indicate independent contractor status.
  • The method of payment: Workers paid by regular hourly wages or salaries should be classified as employees. Employees who invoice on a billable hour or project basis might qualify as independent contractors.
  • Who provides the equipment and materials for the job: Independent contractors are expected to use their own tools and equipment, while an employee may expect to have those furnished to them by an employer.
  • The right to hire, fire, or discipline: An employer may hire and fire and discipline employees. With an independent contractor, an employer may only terminate the contract according to its terms.
  • The right to exercise control over details of the work: Employers may direct employees in specific details of how they perform their work, including when and where they must work. Independent contractors have much greater latitude in completing their work, as an employer only has an interest in the end result.
  • Whether the work is performed in the usual course of the employer’s business: Workers who perform the core services of the employer should be classified as employees. By contrast, employees that provide more ancillary work may be classified as independent contractors.

Do Independent Contractors Have the Right to Workers’ Compensation Benefits in AZ?

As noted before, Arizona does not require employers to furnish workers’ compensation benefits to an independent contractor.

Sometimes, it’s difficult for employees to know whether they actually qualify for workers’ compensation. Here’s an example:

Sarah is an employee for Company A, which works as an independent contractor for Company B. She slips and falls while working on a job for Company B. Sarah can’t file for workers’ compensation benefits through Company B because she is not their employee. However, she may be entitled to workers’ comp from Company A. Even though Company A is an independent contractor, Sarah is not.

Another problem is that the independent contractor status is frequently abused. Employers who purposely misclassify employees as independent contractors as a cost-cutting measure can be held accountable with the help of a seasoned workers’ compensation attorney.

When Do Independent Contractors Need Workers’ Comp?

Although sole proprietors and individuals working as independent contractors are generally not required to have workers’ compensation insurance, there are circumstances where an independent contractor may want to consider purchasing workers’ comp insurance, including for:

  • Meeting the terms of a contract: Some businesses may require their independent contractors to carry workers’ comp insurance to ensure that the independent contractor (or anyone working under the independent contractor) does not make a claim against them.
  • Providing financial resources for medical bills and lost wages: Many health insurance policies refuse coverage for injuries suffered in the course and scope of work. Workers’ compensation insurance can also provide partial wage replacement when an independent contractor suffers a work injury or occupational illness that renders them unable to work.
  • Hiring employees or subcontractors: An independent contractor who hires people to work for them on client projects may be required by Arizona law to have workers’ compensation insurance if someone is hurt while working for the contractor.

Common Independent Contractor Injuries

Examples of injuries that independent contractors can suffer while working for their clients include:

  • Strains and tears of ligaments, tendons, and muscles
  • Broken bones
  • Neck and back injuries
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Spinal cord injury/paralysis
  • Repetitive stress injuries
  • Crush injuries
  • Electrocution
  • Burns
  • Toxic exposure
  • Internal organ injuries and internal bleeding
  • Amputation
  • Deafness or hearing loss
  • Blindness or visual impairment

What to Do If You’ve Been Hurt as an Independent Contractor

If you’ve been injured while working as an independent contractor, you can take steps to preserve your rights to seek compensation for your recovery:

  • Seek immediate medical attention. Make sure to inform the doctor you were injured while working.
  • Notify the employer of your injury. Until you’ve determined whether you are correctly classified as an independent contractor, you should abide by Arizona’s notification requirements to protect your right to potential workers’ comp benefits. Tell the employer about your injury in writing as soon as possible.
  • Document the scene of your injury. Take photos of what harmed you and any visible injuries you may have suffered.
  • Get witness statements. Collect contact information from anyone who may have seen the job accident.
  • Keep copies of your medical records, any bills, invoices, or receipts you receive for expenses during your recovery, as well as your income statements. Workers’ compensation in Arizona covers medical costs, partial wage replacement, and disability benefits to qualifying workers. This information will be critical if you need to file a claim.
  • Talk to an Arizona workers’ compensation attorney. Being an independent contractor may limit your access to workers’ comp benefits, but it’s wise to check your employment status first.

How Our Workers’ Compensation Attorneys Can Help

If you were injured while working as an independent contractor, a workers’ comp attorney from Matt Fendon Law Group can help you by:

  • Reviewing the facts and circumstances of your employment to determine whether you have been properly classified as an independent contractor under Arizona law
  • Walking you through your options for seeking financial compensation based on your employment status and the underlying circumstances of your work injury
  • Filing workers’ compensation claims on your behalf, as appropriate
  • Aggressively pursuing maximum workers’ compensation benefits for you, if possible
  • Identifying whether you have any third-party negligence claims and connecting you with qualified personal injury lawyers near you

Don’t assume that your status as an independent contractor is accurate if you’ve been hurt on the job in Arizona. Call Matt Fendon Law Group for a free consultation today.

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