Equine Jobs: Deciding the Independent Contractor or Employee Dilemma

woman with horse in barn

From RateMyHoursePRO, attorney Gabriella Cellarosi Daniel discusses the issues around classifying workers as employees or independent contractors and in particular for workers related to horses.  She writes:

There is no “magic” analysis.

Whether an individual is an employee or an independent contractor is subject to a multi-factored analysis. Case law concedes that this can be a grey area in the law. When such matters come to litigation, courts often assess a number of different factors and any determination turns on a very fact-specific inquiry and analysis. In legal terms, courts look to the “totality of the facts and circumstances” and there is no hard and fast rule. But, a primary focus is an employer’s right of control of the work to be performed.

With respect to right of control, courts look to a number of factors and there also is no bright-line test. For example, what about the exercise rider who is told to breeze, gallop, or jog the horse? Or pre-race instructions given to jockey? Are those sufficient indicia of the right of control work done? Exercise riders are often times considered independent contractors. Facts that would support this determination would be the owner only providing general instructions on the type of work (e.g. breeze, gallop, or jog the horse), the owner who does not supervise work closely, and the individual/exercise rider has significant freedom to perform the work as desired (e.g. individual can come and go as they please, work for other people, works for many other people, can decide not to ride the horse if he/she thinks not in best interest of horse, as he/she sees fit).

What about tools? Horses, saddles, bridles, versus helmet, chaps, whips? Provision of tools may weigh in favor of an employee determination – i.e. providing the horses, saddles, bridles, and other equipment necessary to perform the work of exercising and training the horses. However, an individual’s provision of their own helmet, chaps, whip, and vest, may not impact the determination and the individual may still be found to be an employee. (Note: case law explains that provision of a halter for a farrier is not considered “equipment” any more than a corral or other enclosure that a horse is kept in).

Some courts have held that a jockey injured while working out a horse was an employee of the owner of the horse and therefore entitled to worker’s compensation benefits based on the fact that horse owner had supplied the jockey with the riding equipment on the day of the accident and due to the fact that the jockey was required to ride all of the owner’s horses that day at the track. In contrast, courts have found that a jockey injured during the course of a race was an independent contractor because the jockey provided all of his own equipment and the jockey was free to ride other owners’ horses in other races that day.

Regarding the financial piece, the court may look at how the work is compensated, as well as the nature of the work. For example, indicia of employee status would be evidence that an individual was receiving wages and receiving a W-2 or a 1099 from the employer and whether there are deductions or withholdings from compensation. If the exercise rider/jockey etc. is guaranteed a minimum salary rate not predicated on the number of horses rode, receives a Christmas bonus and shares in a portion of prize money that a horse wins that may be further indicia of an employer/employee relationship.

In contrast, indicia of an independent contractor would be submission of a monthly bill for services performed that the owner must pay. Courts also might assess the degree of economic dependence that an individual has with a farm or owner. For example, is a trainer/rider/barn worker working with one owner (more likely an employee) or relying on multiple owners for income (more likely an independent contractor). Is the jockey working with one owner, riding all of that horse owner’s horses that day in every race (more likely an employee) or just one race and one horse (i.e. a “free-lance” jockey) (more likely an independent contractor). The same analysis can apply to a barn worker.

Determining how to classify a barn worker can be particularly complicated. As a preliminary matter there are different types of barn workers: barn managers, assistant barn managers, stall cleaners, etc. Consider the barn worker who is told what to do (e.g. feed x horses, x times a day, x tasks, etc.) but isn’t micromanaged by the barn owner. At first blush, the individual may appear to be an independent contractor, but in light of the information in this article, the IRS and common law would likely classify these individuals as employees.

The parties’ respective expectations and understandings can also play a role. For example, does the person consider themself an employee of the farm? Do the parties have a written contract which spells out the parties’ intent and/or understanding of the relationship? Consider whether the parties have had oral or written discussions outlining or describing the nature of the parties’ working relationship. Communicating on specifics with the individual working for you may be beneficial to iron out details of the working relationship, highlight (and then give time to correct) if there is a disparity in the parties’ respective understanding of the relationship, and hopefully prevent disputes in the future.

Read the full story at Equine Jobs: Deciding the Independent Contractor or Employee Dilemma

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