To be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, a worker must establish that there is a relationship between the employer and the worker. In Washington D.C., “employer” is defined broadly to include “any individual, firm, association, or corporation, or receiver, or trustee of the same, or the legal representative of a deceased employer, using the service of another for pay within the District of Columbia.” “Employee” is defined as “every person, including a minor, in the service of another under any contract of hire or apprenticeship.” When both the employer and employee definitions are met, an employer-employee relationship is formed.
Courts in Washington D.C. apply the “relative nature of the work” test to determine whether there is a relationship between the employer and the worker. This test has two parts. The first part looks at the type of work being performed by the worker. The second part of the test looks at how the work done by the worker relates to the employer’s core business. A building security guard provides a good example. Under the first part of the test, a security guard works to protect the occupants of a particular building. Under the second part of the test, a security guard clearly would be considered an employee of a business that provides security services. The guard’s work is the type of work done by that business. Likewise, if a management company for a building hires a security guard directly (instead of contracting with a security company), the guard would be an employee of the building management company because keeping the building safe is an integral part of their business. However, the security guard would not be an employee of all the businesses located in the building the guard protecting because the guard’s work is too unrelated to what those other businesses do. Rather, the guard would be considered a contractor for those businesses. Contractors are not eligible for workers’ compensation benefits from businesses they contract with. They would have to seek workers’ compensation from their employer.
Using these tests, courts in Washington D.C. have found that an employer-employee relationship is not formed when the worker does not receive or expect wages for the work, when there is no contract for hire, or when the employee has not met specific prerequisites for employment such as filing out certain paperwork or attending mandatory pre-job seminars. Generally volunteers are not considered employees under either test.