Earlier this month, the influential Court of Appeals for Franklin County, Ohio (Tenth District) upheld a trial court’s ruling dismissing a workers’ compensation case brought by a home delivery truck driver against his alleged employer on the basis that the driver was an independent contractor, and not an employee (and therefore not covered by workers’ compensation). The case of Barcus v. Administrator, BWC (August 4, 2015), involving Calfee client CEVA Freight, demonstrates that, when properly formulated and presented, an independent contractor relationship will be held valid even in this day and age of heightened governmental and other scrutiny of such relationships.
Leonard G. Barcus (Barcus) was a truck driver who delivered “home delivery” freight for CEVA in a dedicated “short-haul” regional area. Barcus was injured while working for CEVA and sought workers’ compensation benefits. However, Barcus leased his truck to CEVA, signed an “independent contractor” agreement, was compensated on the basis of a percentage of the tariff for each load and not by the hour, and received a 1099 at the end of the year. Barcus nonetheless argued that the “economic realities” were that he was merely an employee. Barcus pointed to the everyday routine of his work; specifically, that he was assigned a group of customers that required delivery within a four hour window (albeit in any order that Barcus chose), that CEVA decals and logo were required on the side of his truck, that CEVA mandated a uniform, and that there were various CEVA training and other work requirements, including a drug test.
In two hearings before the Industrial Commission, Calfee assisted CEVA in presenting the appropriate evidence on the independent contractor nature of the relationship and the services performed, and explaining that any apparent CEVA requirements were actually requirements passed along from either customers or from Department of Transportation (DOT) and/or Federal Motor Carrier Safety (FMCS) regulations. Ultimately, the Commission denied Barcus’ claim on the basis that he was in fact an independent contractor.
Barcus filed an appeal to the trial level court in Franklin County Common Pleas Court. Prior to a trial by jury on the merits, CEVA filed a motion to dismiss the case (summary judgment), supported by a transcript of the proceedings before the Industrial Commission demonstrating the evidence of the independent contractor relationship. The trial court ultimately granted CEVA’s summary judgment motion.
Barcus filed an appeal to the Tenth District. After briefing and oral argument, the court upheld the trial court’s ruling. The appeals court’s decision relied upon the long standing “right to control” test and found that most factors pointed towards an independent contractor relationship (agreement of the parties; method of compensation; ownership and responsibility of the primary tool in question (the truck); right to refuse work). The Court did note that the decal/logo and uniform requirements might point to an employment relationship, but found that these requirements were, in actuality, DOT requirements. Furthermore, as the court noted, “as a practical matter, every contract for work reserves to the employer a certain degree of control to enable him to insure that the contract is performed according to specifications.”
This decision can be put on the short stack of rulings finding in favor of an independent contractor status in our current legal climate.