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American Family Insurance Agents Aren't Employees

By William Vogeler, Esq. on February 08, 2019 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It should come as no surprise to thousands of American Family insurance agents that they are independent contractors.

And it's not because the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals said so in Jammal v. American Family Insurance Company. It's because the agents said so when they joined the insurance company.

Of course, the case is more complicated than that. Unfortunately for 7,000 agents and their families, it means they don't get health and retirement benefits.

Independent Contractor

American Family has classified its agents as independent contractors from the beginning. Literally, they sign an agreement that they are independent contractors when they start.

Agents also work out of their own offices, set their own hours, hire and pay their own staff. At trial, however, the court concluded they were employees and ruled against the company.

The company appealed, and the Sixth Circuit reversed. The appeals court said the evidence favored a finding of independent contractor.

Judge Eric Clay dissented, saying the majority adopted an incorrect standard of review. He also faulted their analysis over tests to weight the independent contractor v. employee question.

Employee Question

The majority focused on two factors: the skill required of an agent, and the hiring and paying of assistants.

"Had the court applied those standards properly, it would have found that those factors actually favored independent-contractor status," Judge Danny Julian Boggs wrote.

That and "most pointedly," the court said, the agents' written agreement.

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