Exotic Dancer Found to be an Employee, Not Independent Contractor

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Is an exotic dancer an employee or independent contractor? The question is more than a simple philosophical musing: if the dancer is an employee, then she is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if she is injured at work. If she is an independent contractor, then no such benefits are available. A few months ago the South Carolina Supreme Court decided that a topless dancer was an employee of the club at which she worked and entitled to workers’ compensation benefits after she suffered a gunshot wound from a stray bullet while performing. This is an encouraging decision for workers throughout South Carolina.Nightspot Nightclub interior

What Exactly Did the Supreme Court Decide?

Dancer LeAndra Lewis suffered a gunshot wound when a fight broke out near to the club at which she was working and a stray bullet struck her, causing serious injuries. Like most clubs that employ topless dancers, the club claimed Ms. Lewis was an independent contractor and not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for her injuries. The club’s argument appeared to be similar to other clubs, many of which argue their dangers are independent contractors because they are paid in tips, not an hourly wage. The Supreme Court rejected this line of reasoning, however, and found ample evidence showing Ms. Lewis was an employee:

  • The club chose when Ms. Lewis would dance after arriving at work;
  • The club selected the music for Ms. Lewis’s performances;
  • The club dictated that Ms. Lewis would perform topless but could not remove any other items of clothing;
  • The club prevented Ms. Lewis from leaving work early by threatening a fine; and
  • The club supplied Ms. Lewis with the stage, a pole, and sound system she needed to perform.

The Supreme Court concluded that the club exercised enough control over Ms. Lewis and how she performed her job that she was an employee, not an independent contractor.

How Does This Impact Me and My Workplace?

Ms. Lewis’s case is sure to cause concern amongst other similar clubs and employers seeking to skirt the workers’ compensation law. Employers who have a certain number of employees are required to provide workers’ compensation insurance. Some employers attempt to circumvent this requirement by claiming their workers are independent contractors, not employees. When this happens, the employer typically supports its claim by pointing to one or two facts supporting its position, such as:

  • The worker is paid per job, not per hour (or paid in tips);
  • The worker controls his or her own schedule; and/or
  • The employer does not control how the worker performs his or her job.

Ms. Lewis’s case should encourage workers to hire an experienced Greenville workers’ compensation attorney to help them when they are injured on the job. Your ability to collect workers’ compensation benefits may depend on whether a court sees you as an employee or an independent contractor. Workers’ compensation attorney David R. Price, Jr. will ensure that all relevant facts of your employment situation are considered and that you receive the workers’ compensation benefits to which you are entitled after you are injured on the job. Contact his office right away following a workplace accident for assistance with your workers’ compensation claim.


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