What Jobs Aren't Covered by Workers' Compensation?

Learn whether business owners, volunteers, independent contractors, and others qualify for workers' comp coverage.

By , Attorney · Lewis & Clark Law School

Certain types of workers and jobs aren't covered by workers' compensation laws. The main categories of workers that are not covered by traditional workers' compensation are business owners, volunteers, independent contractors, federal employees, railroad employees, and longshoremen.

Workers' Comp Exception for Business Owners, Sole Proprietors, and Partners

In most states, business owners, sole proprietors, and partners of businesses are not covered by their company's workers' compensation insurance. In other states, such as Washington, business owners, sole proprietors, and partners may elect to be covered employees for purposes of workers' compensation, if they pay the workers' comp insurance premiums.

Can Volunteers File for Workers' Comp?

Volunteers are not considered employees under state and federal law. That means they don't have to be covered by workers' compensation insurance when they are doing charitable work for a nonprofit organization, as long as they are unpaid (but they can receive food, transportation, or lodging). However, some organizations do purchase workers' comp insurance for their volunteers.

There are some exceptions to this general rule. For instance, volunteer firefighters and police officers are covered by workers' compensation, as are any volunteers who are requested by a firefighter or police officer to assist in an emergency.

Workers' Comp Laws for Federal Employees, Railroad Employees, and Longshoremen

Federal employees, railroad employees, and longshoremen (dock workers) receive workers' compensation benefits through different systems than through the typical state-run workers' compensation programs.

Federal employees, including postal workers, are covered by the Federal Employee's Compensation Act (FECA). This act covers industrial injuries and occupational diseases.

Railroad workers are covered by the Federal Employers' Liability Act, often referred to as the Railroad Workers Act. This act permits railroad workers not covered by their state's workers' compensation system to sue their employer for their industrial accidents. Benefits include medical treatment and lost wages, and can also include pain and suffering damages.

The Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act governs workers' compensation for longshoremen for injuries or occupational diseases occurring on the navigable waters and piers of the United States.

Attorneys specialize in these distinct workers' compensation systems. If you are a federal employee, a railroad worker, or a longshoreman, you should retain a lawyer specializing in these areas to assist you with your workers' compensation claim.

Can Independent Contractors Get Workers' Compensation Benefits?

An independent contractor is not covered by the workers' compensation insurance of the individual paying the bill for the contractor's work. An employee is covered by workers' compensation. Thus, the distinction matters greatly when a worker is injured on the job.

The largest area of contention regarding covered workers for purposes of workers' compensation is the issue of whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor.

Some employers will try to classify an injured worker as an independent contractor to try to avoid paying for their worker's compensation benefits. Learn more about determining whether a worker is an independent contractor or employer for workers' comp purposes.

Other Exceptions to Workers' Compensation Coverage

Most state laws also list specific types of employment excluded from workers' compensation coverage. Typical examples of excluded workers include:

  • part-time domestic workers, such as maids and nannies
  • part-time gardeners or maintenance workers employed in the home to perform specific work
  • intermittent workers performing very little work in the course of a year
  • taxi drivers, and
  • some agricultural workers.

Contact a Workers' Comp Attorney

If you are injured on the job and are unsure if you have an employer (and thus coverage for workers' compensation purposes), talk to a workers' comp lawyer.

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