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Farm Workers: employees or independent contractors?

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on average, between 40 and 50 workers are killed on British farms every year. The HSE reports that the agricultural industry has one of the highest levels of work-related injuries, with disproportionately high numbers of incidents.

The law provides a greater level of protection to employees and strict liability will attach to employers for breaches of various regulations relating to the workplace, work equipment etc. However, independent contractors are also owned a general duty of care by the landowner to work in an environment in which reasonable steps are taken to minimise the risk of injury.

Aside from adopting safe working practices and minimising the risk of injury to those who work on your land, it is important to consider having the correct insurance policy in the event of an injury claim.

It is compulsory in the United Kingdom for an employer to have in place employers' liability insurance to cover against liability for personal injury or disease sustained by an employee during the course of their employment. Have you considered whether or not those who work on your farm could be classed as employees rather than self-employed independent contractors?

The distinction is largely one of fact in each case. In general, it can be said that independent contractors:

- retain control over their working hours,
- dictate their workload
- control how they perform their job.
- provide their own tools and equipment
- cover all expenses related to the work,
- have a financial interest in how the job is done

In contrast, an employee will in general:

- work under the direction and control of another,
- be told what to do and when to do it,
- have tools and equipment supplied to them
- bear no direct financial risk in carrying the task at hand.

For example, a farm labourer providing ad hoc help at harvest, weekends or evenings would most likely be regarded by the Court as an employee of the farm business, regardless of his tax status.

If the position with your employees/contractors is uncertain, it would be prudent to discuss your arrangements with your insurers to ensure you have comprehensive cover in place.

Ashfords' Personal Injury Team has extensive experience in all areas of personal injury claims. If you have had a claim made against you and would like to discuss your options, please contact Flora Wood, Partner, on 01392 334020.