OK Supreme Court Rules Nurses Are Independent Contractors

By Price, Marie | THE JOURNAL RECORD, June 14, 2001 | Go to article overview

OK Supreme Court Rules Nurses Are Independent Contractors


Price, Marie, THE JOURNAL RECORD


Nurses supplied on a part-time or temporary basis by a private health service firm are independent contractors for which the company should not have been assessed unemployment taxes, the Oklahoma Supreme Court has held.

The Assessment Board of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission determined that the nurses were employees, not independent contractors, and levied unemployment taxes against Health Care Associates Inc. The firm places nurses in hospitals and nursing homes on a nonpermanent basis.

In an 8-1 opinion written by Justice Ralph Hodges, the court pointed out that other than requiring the nurses to be licensed, HCA exerts no control over them and provides no benefits, insurance, uniforms or equipment. Each nurse contracts separately with HCA and their duties are set by the individual health care facility.

On appeal, Cleveland County District Judge William Hetherington reversed the assessment board's ruling, but that decision was itself reversed by the Court of Civil Appeals.

Under state law, to be considered an independent contractor for unemployment tax purposes, an individual must be free from control both by contract and in fact. The person must also be customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, profession or business or the service at issue must be outside the usual course of business for which the service is performed. The service must also be performed outside of all places of business of the enterprise for which it is performed.

The commission had argued that in order to meet the independently established requirement, each nurse must maintain a separate office or business with a phone directory listing, having a financial stake in an entity separate from HCA. However, the eight-justice majority said that this would change the statutory requirement of a trade, occupation, profession or business into a mandate that a nurse have both a profession and a business. …

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