A temporary agency will have to pay workers’ compensation benefits to an employee it argued was actually an employee of one of its clients, according to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.
The court found there was sufficient evidence to support a workers’ compensation judge’s decision finding that the temporary agency was the sole employer liable for benefits.
Not allowed to operate powered industrial trucks
Kale Teudhope was hired in November 2017 by Spherion, a temporary employment agency operated by Ruggieri Enterprises. Teudhope was immediately assigned to work at a furniture warehouse owned and operated by Streuber Transportation.
Spherion employees working for Streuber were not allowed to operate powered industrial trucks and they couldn’t work at heights of more than 3 feet without prior approval from Spherion management.
Teudhope worked on the warehouse dock, helping to unload trucks and prepare outgoing shipments. While fulfilling these duties from November until December 2017, he didn’t operate powered industrial trucks or work at heights of more than 3 feet.
Injured same day he could be hired by client
On Dec. 29, 2017, Teudhope was reassigned to another client. He returned to Streuber on Feb. 23, 2018. During this second stint with Streuber, company management made it known to Spherion that it was impressed with Teudhope’s work and wanted to hire him. However, Teudhope had to work more hours for Spherion at Streuber’s facility before that would be allowed to happen.
When Teudhope first returned to Streuber, a Streuber manager asked Spherion management if Teudhope could be taught how to operate a powered industrial truck. The manager was told that was fine, but Spherion insisted he was not allowed to operate a scissor lift. Spherion provided training materials to Streuber, but said Streuber could use its own training materials, if it had any.
Teudhope received the training but Spherion was never notified of this, nor was it notified that Teudhope’s job duties changed.
On April 28, 2018, Teudhope was severely injured in a fall while working at the Streuber warehouse. This happened on the same day that he had finally filled his hours of obligation with Spherion and was available to become a Streuber employee.
‘Only thing that transferred to client was day-to-day oversight’
Spherion initially accepted liability through issuance of a Notice of Compensation Payable (NCP), but filed a petition to review on Oct. 2, 2019, arguing that the NCP was incorrect and that Teudhope wasn’t a Spherion employee at the time of his work injury.
A workers’ compensation judge found that Spherion failed to establish the NCP was incorrect because it couldn’t prove there were established facts that weren’t available to it when the NCP was issued.
According to the judge, Spherion:
- hired Teudhope
- placed him at Streuber
- signed his paychecks
- advised him that Spherion was his employer
- specified his job duties
- mandated prior approval to any changes to his job duties, and
- sent him notices regarding workers’ compensation coverage.
The judge found that “the only thing that actually transferred to Streuber was the day-to-day oversight of (Teudhope) that is necessary in all temporary employment situations.”
Spherion appealed with the state Workers’ Compensation Board, which affirmed the judge’s findings in a Feb. 18, 2021 decision.
Agency maintained control over his work
On appeal with the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, Spherion insisted it wasn’t Teudhope’s employer at the time of the injury.
However, the court disagreed.
“It is well settled that when an employee of one company is loaned to another, the primary factors in determining employer status are the control over the work to be completed and the manner in which it is to be performed,” the court stated.
And, as the judge pointed out, all of the evidence pointed to Spherion as the sole responsible employer, so the court upheld the prior decision holding Spherion liable for workers’ compensation benefits.