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Subjective Desire to Work an Employee STILL Does Not Make

February 8th, 2013

Some of my beloved readers may recall the story of a certain Stewart Espinoza, who allegedly sustained an injury while working in the kitchen of a county jail (as an inmate, mind you – the jail birds don’t enjoy visiting chefs).

Stewie claimed compensation benefits but the County Jail said he wasn’t an employee – he was forced to work as part of his incarceration.  Stewie retorted that he wasn’t forced to work at all – he would hop up and down in his cell every morning because he was so excited to go to work in the kitchen.  He WANTED to work.  Well, the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board ended up reversing the WCJ’s finding of employment, relying on a local ordinance that specifically barred any inmates from employment, and only allowed their compulsory labor as part of the incarceration.

The Court of Appeal denied applicant’s petition for a writ of review, but the Supreme Court reversed – the COA was required to take a good look at this case.

Well, in an unpublished decision, the Court of Appeal did take a look at this one, and came down the same way – no finding of employment.

Referencing a county order prohibiting the formation of an employment relationship between the County and inmates, the Court held: “[g]iven that Order #91 precludes the establishment of an employment relationship, it is not necessary to address the question whether Espinoza volunteered to work.”

The Court went on to note that the County had a sizeable population of inmates, and it would put the County into a difficult financial situation if it were possible to form an employment relationship with any of them.

Your humble blogger agrees – it would be financial burdensome, ruinous even, if the County had to cover an endless amount of inmates and possibly provide workers’ compensation coverage for some or all of them.

Sadly, while the Los Angeles County Jail can simply “opt out” of the comp system, non-government (and non-jail) employers are not so fortunate.  Texas remains the only place where a business can “opt-out” of workers’ comp.

Perhaps Stewie will seek the Supreme Court’s renewed intervention?

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