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Can I File for Workers’ Compensation if I’m Only Part-Time?

California’s workers’ compensation program is meant to provide compensation and benefits for employees who become injured or ill while on the job. The term “employee” is crucial, as an individual who does not meet this definition is not entitled to benefits. For this reason, most volunteers are not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if they become injured or ill while volunteering. In a similar way, independent contractors – those who are sufficiently independent from the employer in carrying out their job tasks – are also not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if they were to become injured while on a job.

The statutes and program material for California’s workers’ compensation program makes clear that the intention of the program is to interpret the phrase “employee” broadly. Yet this phrase clearly has limits in that it is not applicable to either volunteers or independent contractors. Does the phrase include part-time employees?

Why Would the Workers’ Compensation Program Include Part-Time Employees?

At first blush, it may seem odd to wonder why part-time employees would be considered “employees” entitled to protection under the state’s workers’ compensation program. After all, part-time employees throughout the country rarely get any significant benefits as part of their employment contracts, and those that do must oftentimes work for the employer for a specific period of time before having access to those benefits.

Yet one must remember that the term “employee” was intended to be as broad of a term as possible (though it clearly does have its limits). With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that part-time workers are also covered by the workers’ compensation program in California. This is a general rule, however: there are exceptions where a part-time worker would not be covered under the workers’ compensation laws. Understanding the nature of one’s part-time job (with the assistance of an attorney, if necessary) can help you determine whether you are a covered part-time worker.

Part-Time Workers that are Not Covered

Certain part-time workers are excluded from the workers’ compensation program based on their jobs. For example, certain transportation workers are granted a right by federal law to seek compensation through a federal court (such as a railway worker). California law provides that these types of workers do not come under the protection of California’s workers’ compensation scheme because they have other alternative means whereby they can seek compensation. Household workers and gardeners are also generally exempt from being covered by workers’ compensation law.

Other part-time workers are excluded from coverage based on their income and/or work schedule. For example, a worker does not need to be covered with workers’ compensation insurance if he or she worked less than 52 hours during the 90-day period immediately preceding the workplace injury. Similarly, a worker who earned less than $100 in wages during that same 90-day period is exempt from having to be covered by workers’ compensation insurance.

Proving that a person falls into one of these two categories can be difficult as many of the part-time workers who would be excluded from having to be covered do not receive wage statements, do not have access to calendars or appointment books, and are paid under the table in cash or personal checks. How would a court handle a situation with a part-time employee who filed for benefits but whom the employer said was not a covered employee?

A Hypothetical Case

In the hypothetical case above, because the worker is the one seeking benefits and the employer’s insurance company is seeking to deny that claim, if the worker claims she is entitled to benefits under California’s law because of her workplace injury the burden would shift to the defendant – the insurer being sued – to establish that the worker is not in fact entitled to the workers’ compensation benefit. Evidence the insurer could use against the worker might be her social media posts (to show that she was rarely at work); phone or in-person conversations with others concerning the worker’s work schedule or earnings, interviews with the worker’s other “employers,” any tax returns filed by the worker, and so forth. If the employer is successful in showing the part-time employee is not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, then the workers’ claim will be dismissed.

When to Ask for Help with Your Case

It can be confusing and difficult to know whether you meet the definition of “employee” for purposes of the workers’ compensation statute, especially in today’s culture where many employers are attempting to hire independent contractors so as to avoid having to cover them with workers’ compensation insurance. If you are uncertain as to your legal rights following a workplace accident, contact an attorney and allow this attorney to review the facts and circumstances of your case with you.

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