Manual Laborers Who Are Independent Contractors Are Nevertheless Covered by Louisiana Workers Compensation

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Independent Contractors Are Entitled to Workers Compensation Benefits Under the “Manual Labor” Exception

Under Louisiana's “manual labor exception,” an independent contractor may be entitled to workers compensation benefits if he or she demonstrates that:

  1. A substantial part of his or her work time is spent in manual labor in carrying out the terms of the contract with the principal; and
  2. The manual work performed is part of the principal's trade business or occupation.

So, even if an independent contractor relationship exists between the parties, an injured worker may be entitled to workers compensation benefits under this manual labor exception.

Of course, this this manual labor exception begs the questions:

  1. What is manual labor?
  2. What is a substantial part of the work time?
  3. Must the independent contractor be engaged in the trade, business or occupation of the principal?

Louisiana workers compensation courts have observed:

The true legal meaning of the term “manual labor” is to denote work in which the physical element predominates over the mental. … For purposes of determining compensation coverage, the distinguishing feature is whether the workman participates physically himself rather than—so to speak—aloofly directs in clean Sunday clothes.

In other words, manual labor is defined at work where the individuals actually does the work (instead of supervising), and the work is more physical than it is mental.

The issue of manual labor is a factual one on which the claimant bears the burden of proof in a suit for workers compensation.  

So if an injured worker wants to be covered by workers compensation under the manual labor exception, then the injured worker (or his or her attorney) needs to prove that he or she is a manual laborer.

Many times, neither party will dispute that an injured worker is a manual laborer; other times the judge will need to decide.  

Often times, if a party is disputing the manual labor exception, the party will claim that the worker was not a manual laborer, but instead a skilled craftsman. Such disputes will need to be resolved on a case by case basis, based on the facts of each case.  Important factors may include whether the injured worker was assisted by other employees, or carried out all the physical work by himself or herself. 

Louisiana workers compensation courts have awarded workers compensation benefits to the following types of “working independent contractor” individuals:

  1. A truck driver engaged in long-distance deliveries of merchandise;
  2. A farmer hauling cotton to a local gin for other farmers;
  3. A painter;
  4. A plasterer/carpenter injured while repairing a roof;
  5. A carpenter engaged in securing additional materials from a lumber yard;
  6. A welder;
  7. A person engaged in erecting transmission power lines;
  8. A service station operator who reconditioned repossessed automobiles for a bank;
  9. A jockey working part-time as an exercise boy;
  10. An oil rig worker who had been on direct payroll status but was shifted to “contract worker” status;
  11. A car dealership employee picking up a vehicle out of town, a person loading a heavy “rearer” into a truck; and
  12. A person providing cleaning services at a factory.

It is very common for Louisiana workers compensation courts to conclude that the work of an independent contractor is “manual labor” in order to satisfy the definition and award workers compensation benefits.

Tractor Trailer Truck Drivers Are Not Manual Laborers

Louisiana workers compensation law specifically defines as “not manual labor” the operation of a “truck tractor or truck tractor trailer, including fueling, driving, connecting and disconnecting electrical lines and air hoses, hooking and unhooking trailers, and vehicle inspections. …”

Louisiana workers compensation law also defines an “owner operator” as a person who provides “trucking transportation services under written contract” to a common carrier, even though there may be a lease of equipment or a driver to the common carrier in question.

Therefore, such persons are declared not be employees if there is a written contract stating that the owner operator is an “independent contractor.” 

However, such an owner operator “does not include an individual driver who purchases his equipment from the carrier or hauler, and then directly lease the equipment back to the carrier or hauler with the purchasing driver.”

In order to receive workers compensation benefits, the independent contractor must prove that a “substantial part” of the work time was spent in manual labor in carrying out the terms of the contract.

Well, how much exactly is a substantial part?

Louisiana workers compensation courts have ruled that "a substantial part" is not a mathematically precise amount, and may very well might be an amount less than 50%.

Louisiana courts have also ruled that "a substantial part" simply means the opposite of “insubstantial” or “immaterial.” 

An independent contractor spending a substantial part of the work time in manual labor carrying out the contract is not an employee of the principal, but is to be treated as if he were for compensation purposes.

This injured worker is thus required to demonstrate that he is performing services “arising out of and incidental to his employment in the course of his employer's trade, business or occupation,” as an employee would have to do.

This because Louisiana law requires that the work done by the contractor must be part of the business of the principal before the contractor's employee is entitled to workers compensation benefits.

In other words, the question to be asked is simply whether the injured worker was “performing services arising out of and incidental to his employment in the course of” the defendant's trade, business or occupation.

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