Homeowner Liability - Contractors versus Employees

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Under the law, workers are either employees or “independent” contractors.  Homeowners prefer to hire contractors to make minor and major repairs on their home, because homeowners feel that they will not have to worry about the job.  They also save much time and hassle in avoiding paperwork such as tax withholdings.  They also feel insulated from liability for employee injuries. 

However, homeowners should be careful that they do not unwittingly become an employer with corresponding liability.  The main factor to be considered is that employers have a certain level of direction and control over the work.  Contractors are redundantly called “independent” for precisely this reason: she or he has total control over the methods and means by which the work will be achieved. 

For example, an employer will dictate the number of hours worked and the hourly wage.  However, the contractor will ask for a fixed fee regardless of the time it takes to complete the job.  A homeowner may not dictate the methods by which the contractor should use to achieve the task, although the homeowner and contractor often review together overall guidelines about the general finish and look of the project. 

Homeowners should be careful not to physically help with the project, such as pounding a few nails in.  This may show direction on how to do the job.  Homeowners must also be careful not to provide any tools, ladders, or other equipment to workers.  If injured, workers may claim that the tools themselves were defective, and that the homeowner exerted control over the project with use of certain preferred tools. 

As a general rule, homeowners should not become involved at all with the day to day work on their home.  Although this may prove difficult to do for handy types, refrain is necessary to avoid employer status and the corresponding paperwork and liability for personal injuries. 

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Last Modified: 01-03-2013 02:51 PM PST

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