Workers' Compensation
Winter 2020

Maryland Intermediate Appellate Court Examines Co-Employment

Maryland Intermediate Appellate Court Examines Co-Employment
Uninsured Employers’ Fund v. Tyson Farms, Inc., 2019 WL 6223915 (2019), Maryland Court of Special Appeals, No. 1057, SEPT.TERM, 2018

In Uninsured Employers’ Fund v. Tyson Farms, Inc., the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland considered the issue of simultaneous employment of a chicken farm manager. Mauro Garcia, the claimant, managed a chicken farm owned by Dai Nguyen. Pursuant to a contract with Mr. Nguyen, Tyson Farms, Inc. raised its chickens on the farm. Mr. Garcia was found to be occupationally disabled from hypersensitivity pneumonitis and interstitial disease as a result of his employment.

The claimant initially filed his claim for workers’ compensation benefits against Mr. Nguyen as his sole employer. As Mr. Nguyen did not have workers’ compensation insurance, the Uninsured Employers’ Fund became involved and subsequently brought Tyson into the claim as a co-employer. At a hearing, the commission declared both Mr. Nguyen and Tyson to be co-employers. Tyson appealed the commission’s findings to the Circuit Court for Worcester County. The court determined the issue was one for a jury, rather than a court. The jury found that Tyson was not a co-employer at the time of Mr. Garcia’s occupational disease. The Uninsured Employers’ Fund appealed. Judge Wright, writing for the Court of Special Appeals, reversed the decision made by the Circuit Court.

Although the primary issue in the case was whether the Circuit Court should have let the question of employment go to the jury, the opinion provides a constructive overview of the factors that may be considered in determining a co-employer/employee relationship. The factors include:

The power to select and hire the employee;
The payment of wages;
The power to discharge the employee;
Whether the work is part of the regular business of the employer; and
The power to control the employee’s conduct.
Although the other factors were taken into consideration, the court found the “control” factor to be the most important in establishing whether Tyson was a co-employer of Mr. Garcia. In this case, Tyson could oversee all aspects of the farm including verifying operations in compliance with their contract, establishing instructions and requirements for raising the flocks, sending Tyson’s employees to check on each flock of chickens, and evaluating the welfare of the flock. Specifically, concerning the claimant, Tyson had the authority to compel Mr. Garcia to work on the farm 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and to speak directly with Mr. Garcia regarding adjustments of any kind. Tyson also had the right to terminate the contract if Mr. Garcia did not comply with the terms. Based on these circumstances, the Court found that Tyson’s power to control Mr. Garcia’s day to day operations was enough to establish the company as a co-employer and reversed the decision of the Circuit Court.

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