Many employers in Texas are trying to save a few dollars by carrying their employees as independent contractors. As an independent contractor, the employer need not provide medical benefits or other types of benefits. But, as an independent contractor, the injured employee can sue the employer for tort injuries. In Stevenson v. Waste Management of Texas, Inc., No. 14-17-00433 (Tex.App. Hou. 2/21/2019), the employer tries to have it both ways. Waste Management wants employee status to avoid a tort lawsuit, yet an agreement provides that the worker was an independent contractor.
The employee was hired by a staffing company. The staffing company then sent the worker to Waste Management. The agreement between Waste Management and the staffing company clearly said the worker was an independent contractor. Yet, the agreement implied the worker had no right to control how he performed his work. The lower court granted summary judgment regarding the negligence claim, finding the worker was an employee. The Houston Court of Appeals reversed that decision.
The higher court found the agreement was not the determinative factor regarding the worker’s status. It was one factor. Some deposition testimony supported the contention that once the worker was on the premises of Waste Management, Waste Management controlled his work completely. There were some workers which Waste Management said could not return to work. In effect, Waste Management fired them. But, other deposition testimony supported the claim that the worker was an independent contractor. The Court of Appeals found this was not an appropriate issue for summary judgment. Whether the plaintiff was an employee should be decided by the jury. See the decision here.