Temp Jobs + Worker’s Comp = Legal Puzzles

Credit Toby Hudson via Wikimedia Commons

Credit Toby Hudson via Wikimedia Commons

Low wage jobs, especially those involving manual labor, are increasingly performed by temporary workers. A pair of recent rulings from Tennessee’s Supreme Court shows that trend comes with complications when a worker gets hurt.

The amount of worker’s compensation benefits is determined, in part, by whether a person returns to work at the same pay for the same employer. Timmy Britt never worked for Dyer’s Employment Agency again after his carpal tunnel surgery, but that temp agency doesn’t keep anyone on its rolls after a placement ends. State law doesn’t line up neatly with that kind of policy. It took a decision from the state’s highest court to qualify Britt for the same injury benefits as a permanent employee.

And then there’s the case of Joshua Cooper, whose spine was severely hurt in a warehouse accident. His temporary firm, MasterStaff, paid out medical benefits, and when he sued the Smyrna warehouse where the accident happened, MasterStaff asked for a cut of any monetary awards as reimbursement. But the case was settled without the temp agency’s involvement, and that lead to a string of appeals.

Ultimately, even the Tennessee Supreme Court couldn’t completely decide how much of a right the temp agency had to intervene in the case. The matter was sent back to a lower court.

While those cases went all the way up Tennessee’s judicial system, there is a push to instead have the Department of Labor sort out worker’s comp disputes. A report issued last year also recommends the state overhaul the laws that set injury benefits.

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