If you were not employed at the time of the accident, then the injuries will not be covered through workers’ compensation. For instance, if you were injured while assisting a friend with a project, even if you received some sort of payment for your services, you may be considered a “casual employee,” and not covered by the N.J. Workers’ Compensation Act.
If you were an “independent contractor,” rather than an employee, then your injuries will fall outside of the protection of the Act. It should be noted, however, that even if you signed an agreement which declares that you are an independent contractor, that agreement does not end the inquiry. Nor does the fact that you pay all taxes yourself establish that you are an independent contractor.
Instead, the Courts will look to both the “control test” and the “relative nature of the work test” to determine whether you are an independent contractor or an employee. If the company directs the details of how you perform your job and you are economically dependent upon the company, then you are more likely than not an employee as opposed to an independent contractor, entitled to the protection of the Workers’ Compensation Act.
For example, there are many trucking companies who incorrectly label their employees as “independent contractors” because they are paid based upon the number or size of the loads they deliver. If you are a truck driver who delivers exclusively for one company, according to their schedule, you may be considered an employee for purposes of workers’ compensation, even if you are paid on a 1099 and signed an agreement which declares that you are an independent contractor. On the other hand, if you conduct business on a contractual basis with many different customers, and can accept or reject projects on at your discretion, you will most likely be considered an independent contractor. If so, you should speak to an insurance agent about taking out your own workers’ compensation policy which contains sole proprietorship coverage.
Yes, undocumented aliens who are in the country in violation of the federal immigration laws may still obtain benefits under the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act. Accordingly, unless the law is changed, an employer currently cannot deny medical treatment, temporary disability, or permanent disability benefits to a worker on the basis of her immigration status.
The justification for this state policy, which seems to conflict with federal law, is that exempting undocumented immigrants from the workers’ compensation system would actually create an economic incentive for companies to hire illegal aliens. Of course, that rationalization evaporates if federal immigration law, which requires employers to verify citizenship and/or green card status, was zealously enforced.
Regardless of your immigration status, if you were injured during the course of your employment, you are eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits. Although you may fear deportation if you pursue a workers’ compensation claim, practically, the employer has little incentive to report you to federal authorities since doing so would implicate their own company in an immigration violation, which carries both potential civil and criminal penalties.
Injuries which occur while traveling to/from work are not covered by workers’ compensation. Accordingly, if you were involved in a motor vehicle accident on your way to work, the injuries would not come under the purview of workers’ compensation. This concept is referred to as the “going and coming rule.” The critical question in such cases is “when” the employee actually arrives at the workplace. For instance, does he arrive at work when he pulls into the parking lot, a job site, enters the front door of the office building, or an interior office suite? This area of the law is shifting rapidly, but New Jersey Courts have in general held that if the employer owns the premises where the accident occurred (known as the “premises rule”) then the injuries will be considered work-related.
There are several exceptions to the “premises rule” and the “going and coming rule,” which entitle employees to obtain workers’ compensation benefits, despite being outside of the normal workplace when the injuries occurred. One such exception is if the injuries occurred while the employee was on a “special mission.” For instance, a salesman who was injured while traveling to a meeting would be entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits. If the salesman’s injuries occurred when he took a detour for personal reasons, then the injuries may fall outside of the protection of workers’ compensation, unless it was such a minor deviation to be considered insignificant by the Court.
Generally, lunch break accidents are covered if they occur on the employer’s premises, unless the injury was sustained as a result of an activity which did not benefit the employer, such as smoking. If an employee goes off premises for lunch, then the injury would not be compensable unless the off-premises luncheon was scheduled at the request of the employer, or the lunch otherwise qualifies as a “special mission” which benefited the employer. For instance, if the injury occurred during the course of taking a customer of the company out to lunch, the accident should be covered by workers’ compensation.
Similarly, the fact that an employee has not officially “clocked in” or “clocked out” of work is irrelevant. For example, if an employee who arrives at work early in order to have a cup of coffee and socialize before clocking in has an accident, that injury will be covered by workers’ compensation.
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