Arkansas Supreme Court vacates contractor ruling
On March 1, reversing the Court of Appeals, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that a part-time grocery store security guard was an independent contractor, and not an employee, for purposes of Workers' Compensation.
The Supreme Court noted that neither the Workers' Compensation Commission, nor the Court of Appeals, had issued a formal opinion. The Compensation Commission had rubberstamped an ALJ decision, and the Court of Appeals had rubberstamped the Commission's decision.
This caused the Supreme Court to change the rules of court, requiring that all opinions reviewed by the Court of Appeals be in conventional format – that is, to explain the reasoning for the disposition of the case. On remand, the Court of Appeals did so, but maintained its employee ruling. The Arkansas Supreme Court reversed that employee ruling.
This change in the rules requiring reasoned opinions is great for due process for companies. This will prevent the mere rubberstamping of employee rulings when the cases are appealed.
After explaining the change in opinion writing rules, the Supreme Court addressed the independent contractor issue. The security guard was an off-duty police officer. The court stated that there was very little in the record to suggest that he was not an independent contractor.
The court relied on the following factors:
- The grocery store did not control what the security guard wore.
- The grocery store did not provide his tools or equipment.
- The grocery store never training him.
- The grocery store did not take out taxes from any payments to him.
- The grocery store did not provide him with any benefits.
- The security guard himself admitted that the grocery store did not control how he conducted his security duties.
- While the court noted that the grocery store paid the security guard, it stated, "That is of no moment because both employees and independent contractors are paid."
The significance of this decision for newspaper publishers in Arkansas is that the primary factors relied upon by the Arkansas Supreme Court are usually present in the contract relationship between newspaper publishing companies and its independent contractor newspaper carriers.
(Brookshire Grocery Company v. Cleon Morgan, Sr.)
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.