What Do You Think: Was Newspaper Carrier Contractor or Employee?

Frank Ferreri

Harrisburg, PA (WorkersCompensation.com) – A newspaper carrier injured himself on an icy driveway while delivering papers. His workers’ compensation claim sought to test the line in Pennsylvania between considering a worker an employee versus an independent contractor.

The newspaper company imposed a 6 a.m. daily deadline by which the carrier had to deliver 500-600 papers to customers in 100-150 homes, stores, and vending machines. He did not select his own route but received instructions from the company on where to travel.

Other requirements the company placed on the carrier included delivering papers to noncustomers, placing advertising inserts inside papers, and, at times, packing papers in holiday-themed advertising bags.

The carrier didn’t collect money from customers nor did he select customers to include on his right. He was not reimbursed for mileage on his vehicle. The carrier could deliver papers for other companies and was permitted to substitute a person to deliver his papers without giving the company notice. Because he could line up a substitute at any time, he wasn’t required to work every day, and a district manager reported that he would sometimes not see the carrier for months.

After a customer complained to the company that the paper should be delivered to her front porch instead of her driveway, the company required the carrier to walk the paper to the porch. The injury occurred when the driver slipped on ice while following these instructions.

The carrier experienced a broken ankle, which required 11 days of hospitalization. He filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits, which was denied because he had singed an independent contractor agreement stating that he was “an independently established business enterprise” and that as an independent contractor, he understood that he was not entitled to employee benefits, including workers’ compensation benefits, from the company.

The appeals board upheld the decision, prompting the carrier to take his case to state court, arguing that he wasn’t actually an independent contractor.

In Pennsylvania, courts consider several factors to determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. As a “dominant consideration,” control over the work to be completed and the manner in which it is to be performed is a primary factor.

Was the carrier an employee for purposes of receiving workers’ compensation benefits?

A. Yes. The time of delivery, the delivery route, and the means of delivery showed that the company controlled the manner and methods by which the carrier was required to deliver papers.

B. No. Because the carrier sometimes didn’t deliver papers for months at time, there wasn’t the degree of supervision that normally occurs in an employment relationship.

If chose B, you agreed with the court in Shannon v. Ogden Newspapers of Pa., No. 46 C.D. 2020 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 08/25/20, unpublished).

In agreeing with the workers’ compensation judge and appeals board that the carrier was an independent contractor, the court held that the company didn’t have the type of control over the carrier that is characteristic of an employer-employee relationship. In particular, the court highlighted the carrier’s freedom to pick up routes from competitors and to substitute someone in his place whenever he wanted.

In the court’s view, what the company controlled was the result – all papers had to be delivered by a deadline, but the carrier could have someone else deliver them for him. Additionally, although the carrier received instructions on which route to take, he was permitted to choose a different option if he so desired.

Thus, the court upheld the order rejecting the carrier’s bid for workers’ compensation benefits.

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