Vigilant Blog

News, trends and analysis in employment law, HR, safety & workers' comp

Oct 13, 2014

WASHINGTON: Employers are responsible for discrimination between independent contractors


Independent contractors reporting discrimination incurred from other independent contractors are protected from retaliation under the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), even though they are not employees of the company, according to a recent Washington case.

A contractor truck driver was called racial epithets, cursed at, and was the target of racially charged jokes made by other contract drivers. In response to this treatment, the independent contractor driver reported the incidents to an official at the client company who forwarded the complaints to dispatch. Two days after receiving the complaint, the dispatcher terminated the driver’s contract because of “customer service issues.”

The company argued that it could not be held responsible for the behaviors of the drivers involved because they were independent contractors, not employees. The company also pointed out that the behavior was between contractors and therefore outside of the company’s control. The court rejected these arguments and referenced other Washington Supreme Court decisions determining that independent contractors can bring private lawsuits against a company under the WLAD (Currier v Northland Services, Inc, Wash App, Aug. 2014).

Tips: Behavior of independent contractors can be held against an employer. Many employers assume that they are not responsible for the conduct of contractors, especially when it takes place off of their workplace and doesn’t involve a direct employee. If you’re made aware of illegal behavior between contractors and employees, or even just between contractors, you should take action to prevent it from occurring. Contact your Vigilant staff representative for labor and employment law guidance if a specific situation arises.

Knowing which employees an employer is directly responsible for including temporary workers and contractors will save employers a considerable amount of time and money in litigation costs. For updated information about harassment and discrimination, review our additional blogs.

This website presents general information in nontechnical language. This information is not legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific management decision, consult legal counsel.