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Edelman, Krasin & Jaye, PLLC

State workers' compensation law expands to cover farm labor

New York's workers' compensation program requires employers to carry insurance that can provide benefits for their employees who are injured on the job. Most types of employers and most types of employees are covered. However, there are some types of employers and some types of workers who slip through the cracks in the law.

Recently, the state plugged one of the largest of those cracks when it expanded the workers' compensation program to include farm employers and farm laborers. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act into law this summer. In addition to expanding the reach of workers' compensation benefits, the law provides that farm laborers have the right to overtime pay, a day off every week, disability and unemployment benefits.

For many years, farm laborers have been exempt from most of the state's labor laws. Proponents say the new law will make an enormous, positive difference in the lives of 100,000 workers and their families. The law goes into effect next year.

There are still many exemptions to workers' compensation laws. One that leads to a lot of misunderstandings and disputes is the exemption for independent contractors. The New York workers' compensation law covers "employees," meaning, generally, most individuals providing services to a for-profit business. While that definition of "employee" is quite broad, there are cases where it is harder to draw the lines.

A workers' compensation law judge looks at a series of factors to decide if an individual worker is, for workers' compensation purposes, an employee. One of the most important is the employer's right to control the worker's conduct. The court also asks whether the character of the work is the same as the employer's. For example, the court wants to know if the worker was conducting construction work for a construction company. A court also looks at the method of payment, the right to hire or fire, and who has provided the materials used by the worker in the job.

Injured workers often need legal help to press for their benefits and to make sure they get the full amount in benefits they deserve. A skilled lawyer can help them assess their options and argue their case.

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