Exotic Dancer Deemed Employee, Entitled to SC Workers Comp Benefits
For years, workers in a number of professions have been classified, paid, and treated as independent contractors. Although many workers have challenged the classification, until recently, courts have been reluctant to reclassify an independent contractor as an employee.
The classification of independent contractor excludes a worker from a number of rights which an employee is otherwise entitled to including unemployment benefits and SC workers comp benefits. Independent contractors are also treated differently for tax purposes.
SC Supreme Court Awards Workers Comp Benefits to Independent Contractor
A recent incident which occurred at a local gentlemen’s club, led an injured worker classified by the employer as an independent contractor, to file a claim seeking workers compensation benefits for injuries which occurred while she was working. After her initial claim for SC workers comp benefits was denied, the worker appealed the matter all the way to the South Carolina Supreme Court, who reversed the denial of benefits, resulting in a decision that will impact all South Carolina employers in the years to come.
LeAndrea Lewis, worked as an “independent contractor” at Studio 54 Boom Boom Room. While on shift one evening, a fight broke out and Ms. Lewis was hit by a stray bullet. The injuries Ms. Lewis sustained by the bullet resulted in the loss of a kidney and substantial scarring. She applied for SC workers compensation benefits to help her financially and with medical treatment through the injury, but her claim was initially denied. The denial was based in part upon the fact that she worked for other clubs as well as Boom Boom Room as an independent contractor, and had never filed taxes for the tips she received.
Ms. Lewis’s argument was premised upon the control the Boom Boom Room exercised over her. Although the club never took taxes, social security, or workers comp benefits from her paycheck, Ms. Lewis was told when to show up. Ms. Lewis worked for the club at least 5 days a week, sometimes 7 days, and was required to perform specific activities, including VIP dances when a patron requested one.
Based upon these considerations, the Supreme Court of South Carolina ruled in Ms. Lewis’s favor, taking a step towards protecting the rights of “independent contractors,” ruling that despite the classification of independent contractor, Ms. Lewis was treated as a full employee of the club, and therefore entitled to South Carolina workers comp benefits for her injury.
The SC Supreme Court analyzed several factors to determine Lewis’s official employment status for the purpose of whether she was entitled to SC workers compensation benefits. The court found that under the factors considered, she was an employee. Although the club argued that Lewis had no “set schedule,” the Supreme Court found that, once she arrived for a shift, the club exercised specific control over how many hours she worked, including fining her if she left early. Her degree of nudity was also specified by the club, regardless of South Carolina state law, which means that her performances were dictated by her employers.
Although Lewis never filed either a W-2 or 1099 – which would have defined her clearly as either a full taxable employee or an independent contractor – the club exerted some form of control over how she was paid, and did not, as they argued, “facilitate payment from customers to dancers.” The club set the price for dances, tip-out fees, and required her to pay fines for breaking any rules, which would in practical terms dock her wages.
The court ultimately ruled that the purpose of South Carolina workers compensation benefits is to help the injured so they can recover, or find another form of employment, and by definition Lewis was an employee who was injured in the course of her employment. This ruling reflects a larger movement in the US to prevent independent contractors from being denied necessary benefits, and allowing business to use that employment status to take advantage of their workers.
The Strom Law Firm Will Help You Fight for Your Workers Compensation Benefits
Depending upon the circumstances, if you are an independent contractor in South Carolina, and you have been injured while performing your job, you may be entitled to South Carolina workers compensation benefits. It is very likely that your claim will be denied, while you accrue huge medical bills and suffer the inability to work. The South Carolina workers compensation attorneys at the Strom Law Firm can help. We offer free consultations to discuss the terms of your employment and help you get your workers comp benefits. 803.252.4800