Don’t become talk-show fodder

Being a contingent worker can be dangerous. And I am not being facetious here.  It took an HBO segment to write this post.

In his March 31 episode of “Last Week Tonight” on HBO (warning: NSFW), John Oliver focused on wrestlers for WWE, and how as independent contractors, they receive no insurance through the highly profitable organization. Highlighting the high mortality rate and serious medical conditions suffered by professional wrestlers, Oliver implored wrestling fans to call for better working conditions for the independent entertainment professionals.

Companies tend to focus heavily on the misclassification aspect of independent contractor usage. But there are other risks companies should consider, if they are not already. Workplace safety, for example. Read my last post for more details. But back to my thoughts after seeing Oliver’s show. Should employers ensure their contractors are insured, or help them locate suitable coverage?

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The segment got me thinking of the plight of independent contractors working in other dangerous fields. For example, independent contractors comprise a large portion of the crews fighting wildfires in the US — and when injured or killed on the job, they and their families receive little to no financial assistance. The primary employer for these firefighters tends to be various government entities. But what of other occupations that use independent contractors? Suffering a tragedy that involves loss of life would be devastating enough to a company — imagine being highlighted and vilified on such a platform as HBO.

To begin with, these workers can’t claim workers comp, as they are self-employed. Then, there’s co-employment looming if misclassification rears its ugly head. So where does that leave the IC? Independent contractors need to make sure they have their own healthcare/insurance needs taken care of. In fact, there are companies out there that make it easier for enterprise organizations and top independent professionals to work together.

But for others, we ask enterprises that engage ICs to be aware of what being an IC involves. Take drivers, for example. There are already laws on the books limiting driving hours of independent contractor drivers, but there are tools like GPS trackers that help track compliance. And if a driver is committing to delivering a load in a time period that is shorter than should be feasible if proper rest periods are taken, then that is an accident — and horrible a headline — waiting to happen.

Obviously, it is in your company’s best interest be aware of risks associated with the type of ICs you use. Remember, misclassification can become an issue if companies exert too much control over their independent contractors, so counsel should always be involved when considering any behavior requirements of your ICs.

Still, take the necessary steps to protect your company and the IC. Work-related accidents can bring unwanted attention to your company, either by injury suffered by or caused by your independent contractors. Remember Tracy Morgan anyone? Don’t become media fodder.

Sharon Thomas

Sharon Thomas
Sharon Thomas is managing editor at Staffing Industry Analysts, responsible for the Contingent Workforce Strategies 3.0 e-newsletter. She can be reached at smthomas (at) staffingindustry (dot) com.

Sharon Thomas

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