Independent contractor carveout changed in North Carolina

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We have been writing for months about the never-ending saga of legislative attempts to remove from North Carolina law a provision in the workers' compensation law that presumes newspaper carriers are independent contractors. This presumption has been very valuable since it was passed almost two decades ago. Since that time, there has not been a single reported independent contractor versus employee case in the workers' comp arena in the state of North Carolina. It has been very good for the newspaper industry.

Earlier this year, I reported that the North Carolina Press Association had been successful in stopping this repeal. Even though the bill removing the presumption was passed by the Legislature, it was vetoed by the governor. When I last reported on this issue, I stated that there were not enough votes to override the governor's veto.

On Oct. 5, in a special session, a "technical corrections" bill passed the Legislature. It addressed many subject matters, including our valued presumption of independent contractor status. This technical corrections bill removes that presumption from the law.

Unfortunately, while the governor could have vetoed this bill, it contained many other provisions he liked, such as improvements to teacher and principal pay and other educational enhancements. There is also funding for opioid abuse treatment programs. The governor signed the bill into law on Oct. 8.

Also passed on Oct. 5, by one vote – 58 to 57 – was a local bill that would apply only to Guilford County, which includes the City of Greensboro. This local bill will allow the county to decide to place all legal notices on the county government's website, not newspapers of general circulation. This will be a tremendous revenue hit to newspapers in that county. The governor does not have the ability to veto this local bill.

State Senator Trudy Wade is the impetus behind this bill. For the last couple of years, Senator Wade has been critical of the Greensboro News & Record because of its coverage of her political activities. With Senator Wade's local bill focused on Guilford County, is this retaliation because the Greensboro News & Record exercised its First Amendment rights?

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 mzinser@zinserlaw.com.

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