It wasn't the shot heard 'round the world, but in 2008 when stripper LeAndra Lewis was hit by a stray bullet fired during a fight in the Boom Boom Room in Columbia, S.C., the pain was felt across the country.
The bullet, which passed through her intestines, liver and pancreas, prevented LeAndra from working for quite some time. Lewis felt she was entitled to a workers compensation claim. Employers pay for workers comp to pay for injuries that employees suffer while on the job. If they cannot work, it covers their medical care and lost wages.
But a South Carolina Court of Appeals ruled that Lewis couldn't collect. As a stripper at the bar, LeAndra worked as an "independent contractor" and was therefore ineligible to collect workers comp. And as an independent contractor myself, I sympathize.
More and more Americans work in what the Labor Department calls an "alternative arrangement." Somewhere along the line a bean-counting company may have outsourced their jobs and then brought them back as independent contractors. Insurer Allstate did this to hundreds of its agents, who are now appealing to the Internal Revenue Service to review their work status.
Independent contractors like Lewis now number close to 9 million and growing, the Labor Department says. Roughly one in 10 workers now fit into an "alternative arrangement" and four out of five employers have "nontraditional staffing."
Employers like to hire independent contractors because they don't have to pay for their workers comp or health insurance, which can now cost an employer nearly $16,000 for a family. And as health care costs go up, so will the number of alternative arrangements.
So where does that leave people like me, Lewis and, for that matter, any other worker who wasn't a full-time employee at the bar when the shooting started? Not in a very good place. We can sue an employer, but it's a lengthy and costly process with no guarantee of a settlement. To be blunt: Be prepared to pay your own medical bills and enjoy your time off.
The difference between a worker with workers comp and one without is dramatic. Lewis may not have been in the best profession, but she was working at it. You can compare this to an Australian woman in a public service job with workers' comp, who was injured during a sexual encounter in a motel room when a light fixture over her head broke. In this case, the judge ruled that the injury was "in the course of her employment."
Down for the count
The same can be said of the National Football League (NFL), where former players are suing for and collecting enormous settlements for head injuries, while prizefighters, purposely pummeled in the cranium, receive nothing. Why you ask? They are independent contractors.
So it should come as no surprise that the more dangerous the profession the more likely you are to be an independent contractor. Among those commonly excluded from workers comp: farmhands, landscapers and many loggers.
Jockeys get their share of glory and money when they win the Kentucky Derby, but many times they just get hurt.
"You're on a horse going 40 miles an hour and there's an ambulance following behind just in case," says a financial planner who works with jockeys. "There's a high level of concussion, and paralysis is an even bigger risk than death."
He goes on to say that some horserace tracks do carry workers comp. But mainly the jockeys chip in to a fund to help each other -- and hope that their horses don't throw them.