housekeeping-imageIn Pennsylvania, workers who are injured or become ill as a result of their jobs may be entitled to benefits through the workers’ compensation system. Although there are other requirements to qualify for workers’ compensation, as a preliminary matter it must be determined that a worker is covered by an employer’s workers’ compensation plan before benefits can be awarded.

In many cases it is clear that a worker is a “covered” worker. However, in a surprising number of instances coverage becomes an issue for litigation. Risk & Insurance recently reported on a case before the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, which denied benefits to a worker who was not covered.

In the case of Bouikidis v. St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, 28 PAWCLR 133 (Pa. W.C.A.B. 2013), the appeal board reviewed a ruling made by a workers’ compensation judge, who granted benefits to a church worker.  The worker was injured when he fell off a ladder while doing maintenance and housekeeping tasks at the church. The worker filed a claim with the church for workers’ compensation benefits. The church denied the claim based on the assertion that the worker was not an employee of the church.

The church’s position was based on the fact that it actually had hired the man’s wife as a subcontractor to work around the church and she then hired her husband to perform the work. The church argued that the worker was an employee of his wife and his wife was an independent contractor and not an employee of the church.  The judge agreed that the worker was not an employee of the church.

However, the judge went on to find that the worker was an employee of his wife’s and that she was an independent contractor performing work on the church, which made the worker a statutory employee of the church. As a statutory employee of the church, he was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for his injuries, the judge found.

But the appeal board said the worker had failed to prove that he was a statutory employee. The board pointed out that although the worker testified that his wife was hired by the church as an independent contractor, he did not provide testimony that proved he was employed by his wife.

On the contrary, when questioned during the hearing regarding his wife’s business and his position within the business, he denied that she even had a business that he worked for her. Instead, the worker testified that he was hired directly by the church as an employee to work with his wife. Because the worker never claimed to work for his wife, the board could not find that he was a statutory employee.

Moreover, even if the board had found that the worker was a statutory employee, there was nothing in the record indicating that his wife failed to carry workers’ compensation coverage. The church would potentially be liable for workers’ compensation coverage for a statutory employee only if the independent contractor who hired the worker did not carry the necessary coverage. Since nothing in the record substantiated this scenario, the board overruled the workers’ compensation judge’s decision and denied the worker’s claim.