MN Court of Appeals Defines Independent Contractor/Employee

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The Minnesota Court of Appeals broke legal grounds today when it declared that “[a worker’s] nose is a tool that would certainly be customarily supplied by every worker . . .”

Just in case you weren’t sure and thought that perhaps employers supplied their workers’ noses for them.

That statement came from the case St. Croix Sensory, Inc. v. Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, which was published just yesterday. The case deals with an issue that I find particularly interesting: the classification of workers as independent contractors or employees. The case deals with workers at a sensory testing facility, where “sensory assessors” are hired to sniff a product or air sample and record his or her observations. Who knew that such a job existed?

The case is especially interesting because at the end, despite many factors which indicated that the company exercised control over the means and manner of how the workers carried out their job and despite the right to instruct or direct the work, the Court of Appeals held that the workers were independent contractors. In addition to the right to control, another factor that indicates an employer-employee relationship is the furnishing of tools and equipment. An independent contractor furnishes his or her own, while an employer furnishes them for the employee.

Here, the workers’ noses, because they were sniffing odors, were considered the most important tool that was needed to carry out the job. Although the company furnished other equipment, it was not outweighed by the noses themselves.

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