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Missouri’s Worker’s Compensation Law requires employers to provide certain benefits to their employees that suffer an injury, occupational disease, or even death. The Law only requires the employer to cover these events if they occurred while the employee was working, or "in the course and scope of employment." The Law seeks to provide protection to many employees in Missouri, but not every employer falls under the work comp provisions. And not every employee is eligible to receive benefits, even if he or she suffers a work-related injury.
Under the law, "employer" has been held to mean basically what it is commonly used to mean in everyday life: any entity or individual that uses the services of another. An employer is subject to Missouri’s Workers' Compensation Law if it has five or more employees. However, the construction industry is different. Construction employers are covered if they have a single employee. This is because construction jobs are so dangerous. "Construction" under the Law includes demolition, repairs, or building. Additionally, "illegal" employees count in this number. These include minors or those working in the country without proper documentation. Finally, the State of Missouri, local counties, and school districts are considered employers under the laws.
Certain employers are exempt from providing workers' compensation coverage. As discussed above, very small business will be exempt. Owners of a farm are also exempt, even if several laborers are hired to work on a farm. This means that even though such employees may suffer a work-related injury, the employer is not required to provide benefits—including medical care and temporary disability benefits. There is also no protection for work done in private homes (exception construction). Thus, a caregiver is not provided coverage under the Law unless that caregiver is employed by a company that provides the service to the private resident as a client. Another group that is excluded from receiving benefits under the laws are prison inmates. Under some circumstances, sport officials or contest workers for school functions are not covered by the laws. Notably, volunteers are not covered under the laws. If the volunteer is helping a tax-exempt organization, and are unpaid, then they are not entitled to benefits under the laws.
All "employees" working for a qualifying employer in Kansas City are covered by the Law. However, the term "employee" has a special meaning. In DiMaggio v. Johnston Audio/D & M Sound, the court decided that every person working for an employer under a contract—including a verbal contract—is an "employee." In fact, the contract between the employee and employer doesn't even need to be verbalized. It can be implied based on the circumstances, including how the employer and employee interact with one enough.
What exactly does "working" mean? To answer this question, Missouri courts look at the amount of control that the employer has over the employee: the greater than control, the more likely the worker is to be an employee. Common evidence of control includes determining hours, guidelines for how work is to be performed, and providing necessary tools or resources. If the employer lacks a say in how the work is done, only controlling the outcome, that worker is likely an independent contractor and not an "employee."
It is important to note that this distinction between an employee and an independent contractor is difficult to make. Until a court is asked to make a determination, it is virtually impossible to know whether a close-call worker is an employee or not. How the employer classifies an individual has no bearing on the court’s determination at all. For example, it is not relevant that an employer refers to an individual as an independent contractor. Employers want workers to be considered independent contractors for several reasons, including that those workers will be outside of the work comp coverage. Employers also can avoid liability to third-parties and receive tax benefits by intentionally misclassifying employees as independent contractors. It is will always be a decision for the judge as to whether a worker is really an employee or independent contractor.
To fall under the protections of Missouri's Workers' Compensation Law, both the employer and the worker must meet certain criteria. As discussed, these criteria differ from what are considered to be "employers" and "employees" in everyday work. To add to the confusion, employers have strong incentives to misclassify workers; to lie. This highlights the importance of contacting an attorney that had experience and specializes in work comp cases. The terminology and coverage of the Law are unique, and it takes time, experience, and specialization to ensure that you receive the full benefits an injured work is entitled to under the Law.
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