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Dead Worker Ruled an Employee in OSHA Ruling

On a commercial renovation job in Panama City, Florida, a Hispanic drywall construction worker was electrocuted when he came in contact with electrical wires projecting from a terminal box at the site where he was working.

According to an article published in the Durability + Design Journal, “A Florida contractor must answer federal citations involving the electrocution of a Hispanic drywall worker, although the worker was paid in cash and the contractor denied knowing him.”

In her statements to police at the scene, Nathalie Monroe, President of Monroe Drywall Construction, Inc. (MDC), denied hiring, or even knowing, the deceased worker. However, in subsequent testimony from other “drywallers” on the site, it was learned that MDC had hired the four men to hang, tape and finish the 338 boards on the remodel job and was paying them in cash. Monroe later admitted that she knew the deceased and had worked with him on other jobs.

This is a classic case where even though the workers were employees, they were paid in cash by the subcontractor in order to avoid workers' compensation claims and taxes.

MDC claimed that the workers were employees of the general contractor, GMB Construction Services (GMB), and GMB claimed the reverse. OSHA investigated and issued two citations against MDC. In a 2012 hearing in Atlanta, the administrative law judge, Judge Stephen J. Simko, Jr., heard and vacated the charges saying that the Department of Labor did not prove that the deceased worker was an employee of MDC.

A second ruling, issued last week in Washington, D.C., reversed Judge Simko’s ruling and stated that the workers were employees of MDC even though they were paid in cash. They also upheld that MDC had several OSHA violations that contributed to the accident on the site.

Companies in our industry should pay attention to this ruling especially if they are among those who are either paying in cash or misclassifying their employees as independent contractors.

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