Employers that hire through private temp agencies are not liable for discrimination under the Workers’ Compensation Act, even if they fire an employee the very day after he asserts a work injury. To hold otherwise, says Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court, would require such employers to purchase additional insurance coverage, which is inconsistent with the Legislature’s goals of reducing costs to employers, attracting employers to the state, and cutting costs to the workers’ compensation system as a whole.
In Doughty v. Work Opportunities Unlimited, a divided (6-3) Law Court decided that Charles Doughty, who worked at Poland Springs but was hired through Work Opportunities, a temp agency, and was fired the day after he asserted a work injury, did not have the right to sue Poland Springs for discrimination under Workers’ Compensation Act because Poland Springs was not his employer. The court focused on the fact that Doughty’s contract-for-hire was with Work Opportunities, even though he worked at the Poland Springs’ bottling plant, performing Poland Springs’ work, under Poland Springs’ direction and control. In Doughty’s case, he sought employment at Poland Springs by submitting an application to Work Opportunities. Poland Springs interviewed and hired him. He worked every day at the Poland Springs’ plant, filling, capping and labeling bottles. Poland Springs controlled his schedule and provided all the equipment and machines he worked on. He was paid by the hour, supervised by Poland Spring, and not Work Opportunities. The next day after Doughty got hurt on the job, Poland Springs notified Work Opportunities that they were terminating Doughty.
The Workers’ Compensation Act contains an anti-discrimination provision which states that an employee may not be discriminated against in any way for testifying in a workers’ compensation proceeding or for asserting a claim under the Act. It provides remedies including reinstatement with back pay and benefits, and payment of attorneys’ fees. However, it applies only to an employer against whom the employee has testified or asserted a claim. The court found that Poland Springs was not that employer.