Massachusetts high court case considers workers’ compensation for newspaper deliverers

newspaper delivery boy

 

From MassLiveShira Schoenberg reports that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is considering a case in which a newspaper deliverer was classified as an independent contractor and was injured.  Shira writes:

If a newspaper delivery person gets hurt on the job, should she be eligible for workers compensation? The answer depends on whether she is an independent contractor or an employee.

That question is at the center of a court case, Ives Camargo v. Publishers Circulation Fulfillment, that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will hear Thursday, which could have significant ramifications for newspapers.

Camargo, in court briefs, argues that she should be considered an employee for purposes of workers’ compensation.

PCF, in court briefs, argues that Camargo was an independent contractor and should not be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. It cites previous cases finding that newspaper deliverers are independent contractors. PCF also says Camargo lied about the extent of her disability.

Paul Kelly, an attorney representing PCF, said Comargo had a contract classifying her as an independent contractor. She wrote off business expenses on her taxes. She hired substitutes when she could not come in. “She operated with almost zero control from the delivery company,” Kelly said.

Camargo argues that she had specific obligations she had to meet under her contract with PCF, such as delivering to routes designed by the company.

If newspaper deliverers are considered employees, newspapers would have to pay for workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance, withhold taxes and adhere to wage and hour rules.

The case has broader implications beyond Camargo. PCF delivers newspapers for major companies including the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald and the New York Times. Many newspaper companies use similar business models, in which newspaper deliverers are classified as independent contractors.

“These cases really threaten that structure because they could impose a huge economic burden on newspapers at a time when newspapers are already suffering from any number of economic burdens,” Ambrogi said.

It is not the first time the courts have ruled on cases involving newspaper carriers. PCF, in its court brief, cites unemployment case decisions in 2011 and 2012 that found PCF deliverers were independent contractors. Another case looking at the classification of news carriers, King v. Gatehouse, is pending before the Appeals Court.

Fager said the issue of eligibility for workers’ compensation has never before been litigated.

“When misclassified as independent contractors, and then injured on the job, many workers are wrongfully denied access to workers’ compensation coverage for medical care and wage replacement benefits,” attorneys for the workers’ groups wrote in a court brief. “Other misclassified workers may successfully fight for benefits through legal appeals but, in the meantime, suffer delays in obtaining much-needed benefits and medical care.”

The groups wrote that the case goes beyond Camargo or all newspaper deliverers and could “significantly affect the well-being of a broad swath of vulnerable workers in the Commonwealth.”

Audrey Richardson, an attorney for Greater Boston Legal Services, said, “It’s a question of what standard applies across the board and whether that standard is clear and easily understood by workers and employers and insurers alike.”

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