Like many across New England, my family cheered as the Patriots won the Super Bowl this past weekend. It was a great game. However, whether you watched the Super Bowl for the excitement of the sport or simply watch for the commercials, you couldn’t escape the incredible amount of hype about the proper inflation of footballs leading up to this year’s game.
I tend to agree with Forbes that “Deflate-gate Is the Dumbest Sports Controversy Ever.” Regardless of where you stand relative to “Deflate- gate,” what is most amazing to me is the amount of media attention given to this “scandal.”
While I appreciate that football, like all other types of major league sports is a big business, I’m perplexed by the media’s obsession with the inflation of footballs as a sign of cheating when other types of cheating – that occur off the field and towards regular men and women like you and me – hardly ever make the news.
Take, for example, Lowe’s recent agreement to pay $6.5 million to settle a class action claim that it illegally misclassified employees as independent contractors thereby cheating them out of employee benefits. Apparently inflating footballs to illegal levels is more interesting to the media than illegally blocking benefits to middle-class citizens. It seems our priorities are a bit off kilter.
Just like prepping footballs before a game, labeling employees as “independent contractors” happens all the time in Maine. In 1999, the Maine Law Court set forth a number of different factors to consider when classifying someone as an employee or an independent contract. These factors include:
- whether there is a contract for the work;
- whether the type of work being done is independent in nature or controlled by another;
- whether the worker can hire and supervise employees hired;
- whether the worker has to furnish her own tools, supplies and materials;
- whether the worker controls the progress of the work performed;
- time the worker is employed; and
- how the worker is paid (by time or by job).
Despite the fact that the Law Court set forth these factors, various employers in Maine, typically contractors, continue to engage in a pattern of misclassification of employees.
By classifying a worker as an independent contractor, both the employer and employee ultimately suffer consequences. If the employer doesn’t carry workers compensation coverage, it can be sued for negligence if the worker suffers an injury. When wrongly classified, the worker is deprived of benefits he or she may otherwise be entitled to such as workers’ compensation coverage, health benefits, sick time, and vacation time.
The act of simply labeling an employee as an independent contractor does not determine whether a worker is independent. Employees should be cautious when they are labeled as an independent contractor because there are consequences to that classification.
In the end, when people in this country are more likely to know the acceptable PSI in NFL game footballs than their own rights at work, we all may be in trouble.
Regardless, congratulations to the Patriots for a job well done! And congratulations to the workers at Lowe’s for getting their due in court.
About the author: Karen Bilodeau is an attorney and partner at the workers’ rights law firm McTeague Higbee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 207-725-5581.