Can insurance carriers in N.C. require us to cover independent contractors?
Question: Our newspaper is located in North Carolina. Our business insurance carrier is insisting that we cover our independent contractor newspaper carriers for Workers' Compensation – or it will provide no business insurance whatsoever. Are you seeing this with other insurance carriers? Further, if we do cover the independent contractors for Workers' Compensation, will this jeopardize our legal status?
Answer: I often see insurance companies try to do this. It is nothing more than a naked premium grab. There is especially no justification in North Carolina, because there is a rebuttable presumption under the state's Workers' Compensation law that newspaper carriers are independent contractors. Thus, there is no excuse for the insurance company to try to strong-arm you in this fashion.
I believe that I would write the insurance company a detailed letter to try to get it to change its mind, explaining the statutory rebuttable presumption. Absent that, I would change insurance carriers.
Additionally, if you were to cover your newspaper carriers for purposes of Workers' Compensation under the circumstance of your rebuttable presumption, that would be hurtful evidence to you in the event that you had to litigate the independent contractor status in a different forum. The plaintiffs in the other forum would argue that it is evidence of employee status that you are covering your newspaper carriers for Workers' Compensation in a situation where you are not required to do so. That would seem to be an admission on your part that you doubt their independent contractor status.
In conclusion, my recommendation is that you not cover the independent contractor newspaper carriers for Workers' Compensation. In support of this position is the fact that, since the passage of this rebuttable presumption in the North Carolina Workers' Comp law over a decade ago, there have literally been no independent contractor versus employee cases in North Carolina, in the Workers' Compensation context. That is how successful the rebuttable presumption has been. Under the circumstances, the insurance company has no legitimate right to require you to cover independent contractor newspaper carriers.
Note: Nothing in this SNPA Legal Hotline Q&A should be relied upon as legal advice in any particular matter.
L. Michael Zinser is the founding partner of The Zinser Law Firm in Nashville, Tenn. The firm, which has a heavy concentration of clients in communications media, represents management in the area of labor and employment. Zinser can be reached at (615) 244-9700 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
SNPA's free Legal Hotline for members – (844) 804-2016 – is designed to assist newspapers with a broad range of legal issues. Hotline attorneys and CPAs will tackle questions about circulation, independent contractors, labor and employment law, taxes, finances and accounting, employment benefits, open records, libel and privacy, and other issues newspapers encounter.
The attorneys and CPAs who will take calls from SNPA member newspapers are the best in the business: The Bussian Law Firm PLLC, Fisher & Phillips, Way, Ray, Shelton & Co., P.C. and The Zinser Law Firm.