Case Update: Recent Decision on Employment Relationships and Employer's Liability


In Uninsured Employers' Fund v. Tyson Farms Inc., et al., the Claimant began working for a farm that was contracted by Tyson to raise chickens in 2009. It was owned by Mr. Ung. Claimant performed routine maintenance and other chores at the farm. Upon Mr. Ung's death, his wife acquired ownership in the farm. Because Mrs. Ung did not know how to manage and operate a chicken farm, Tyson instructed Claimant on how to operate the farm according to its standards. Claimant lived on the farm and managed the day to day responsibilities. In 2013, Mrs. Ung sold the farm to Mr. Nguyen, a Virginia resident who acquired the property as an investment and knew nothing about raising chickens. Tyson agreed to contract with Mr. Nguyen only if Claimant remained on site as the resident manager of the farm.

In 2014, Claimant was diagnosed with hypersensitivity pneumonitis and interstitial disease, which were found to be disabling occupational diseases. Claimant filed a claim seeking compensation from Mr. Nguyen, but he did not have workers' compensation insurance and the Uninsured Employers' Fund (UEF) was impleaded.

The Commission held that Mr. Nguyen and Tyson were co-employers of Claimant and that his injuries were compensable. Tyson appealed the decision on the proper employer to the Circuit Court. After the presentation of evidence at trial, the UEF and Tyson moved for judgment. Both motions were denied, and a jury returned a verdict in favor of Tyson that it was not a co-employer of the Claimant. The UEF appealed, arguing that the Circuit Court erred in denying its motion for judgment.

Relying on the Five-Factor Employment Test as stated in Mackall v. Zayre Corp., 293 Md. 221, 230 (1982), the Court concluded that Tyson's control over Claimant's work was more than sufficient to establish an employment relationship. The Court referenced the following indications of control by Tyson:

  • Tyson required that Claimant remain on the farm 24/7 as a condition of its contract with Mr. Nguyen;
  • The contract included detailed instructions and requirements on raising the chickens;
  • Tyson's employees instructed the Claimant on how to raise chickens;
  • Tyson's employees inspected the farm before every new flock of chickens was delivered;
  • Tysons's employees visited the farm frequently to evaluate Claimant's performance and informed him of how to improve performance; and
  • Tyson held the unilateral ability to terminate its relationship with Mr. Nguyen if Claimant did not comply with the requirements in the Contract or those given to him by Tyson employees.

The Court stressed that the fact that the Claimant was an employee of Mr. Nguyen at the time he was injured did not alter the its conclusion that Tyson was a co-employer of Claimant. The contract between Tyson and Mr. Nguyen imposed control by Tyson over Mr. Nguyen's relationship with the Claimant. Tyson did not have a contract with Claimant, however, Tyson exercised extensive control over the Claimant's work at the farm sufficient to establish an employment relationship.

A copy of the Opinion can be found at: