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AGO 1950 No. 213 - January 31, 1950
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

RECIPIENTS OF WORK RELIEF COVERED BY WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION ACT

Recipients of work relief employed in extrahazardous work by counties or municipal corporations in carrying out authorized function of particular governmental unit sponsoring projects are covered by Workmen's Compensation Act.

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                                                                 January 31, 1950

Honorable Roderic Olzendam
Director
Department of Social Security
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 49-51 No. 213

Attn:  Leonard L. Hogland

Dear Sir:

            You have orally requested this office for an opinion on the following question:  Are persons receiving general assistance in the form of work relief covered by the Workmen's Compensation Act?

            Our conclusions may be summarized as follows:

            Needy persons receiving work relief who are employed in extrahazardous work by counties or municipal corporations on projects undertaken in carrying out an authorized function of the particular governmental unit are covered by the Workmen's Compensation Act.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            The statutory provision relative to the problem is Remington's Revised Statute 7692 (chapter 74, Laws of 1911, as last amended by section 5, chapter 136, Laws of 1923), which provides that, "Whenever the state, county, any municipal corporation or other tax district, is engaged in any extrahazardous work or let a contract therefor in which workmen are employed for wages, this act shall be applicable thereto."

            As we understand the facts, persons in need of general assistance who are physically able to work, are required to work on so-called "work relief" projects in order to qualify for assistance.  Work relief projects are sponsored by counties or municipal corporations and work is done which the governmental unit is authorized to perform.   [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] The employees work under the supervision of a particular governmental unit and are compensated in the form of wages set at the prevailing rate for union labor for the particular type of extrahazardous employment within the county.

            The question of whether or not persons receiving general assistance in the form of employment in work projects are within the protection of the Workmen's Compensation Act has been litigated in the Supreme Court of this state numerous times.  The earliest case is that of Garney v. Department of Labor and Industries, 180 Wash. 645, 41 P. (2d) 400, involving a recipient of emergency relief who was working on the public roads under the control of the foreman of the road gang, and whose wages were paid from money in the indigent relief fund.  The court held that one employed in emergency relief work, extrahazardous in nature, and paid from county relief funds was within the protection of the Workmen's Compensation Act.  In the opinion the court stated that it was no concern of the department whether the worker was paid by cash, warrant, scrip or supplies.

            InFitzgerald v. Department of Labor & Industries, 181 Wash. 325, 42 P. (2d) 805, the court affirmed the rule of the Garney case, supra, and held that the claimant, who was also engaged in working on a highway and paid as an indigent relief worker, was covered by the act.

            InNichols v. Pacific County, 190 Wash. 408, 68 P. (2d) 492, the court again followed theGarney case.  The claimant was employed on county road work under the supervision of the road supervisor, and the tools were furnished by the county.  The court held that the claimant was an employee of the county even though he was paid by the welfare department.  The court stated that, "If A loans a servant to B under such circumstances that B assumes complete control and direction of the servant's work, B becomes his master for the time being even though his wages are paid by A."

            InBlake v. Department of Labor & Industries, 196 Wash. 681, 84 P. (2d) 365, the court again followed the Garney and theFitzgerald cases, supra, and found that claimant, who was sent by the relief agency to work on a project sponsored by the City of Seattle, for which he received clothing, lodging and board from the city, and a small cash  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] remuneration from the relief agency, was within the scope of the Workmen's Compensation Act.  The court reaffirmed the rule that it made no difference how the workmen were paid, whether by cash, warrant, scrip or supplies.  In a concurring opinion it was stated that the source of money for payment of wages is wholly beside the question of the workmen's right to compensation.  The opinion used the following pertinent language:

                 "* * * In other words, we are committed to the rule that, if the city or county engage for compensation in the performance of extrahazardous work in which the city or county is engaged, the relationship of employer and employee is created and the employee is under the protection of the workmen's compensation act, irrespective of the fact whether the compensation of the employee be by supplies, or whether he be paid in cash which is contributed by a charitable organization, or by the Federal government in whole or in part."

            InLawe v. Department of Labor & Industries, 189 Wash. 650, 66 P. (2d) 848, andReid v. Department of Labor and Industries, 194 Wash. 108, 77 Pac. 589, the court distinguished the Garney case, supra, on the facts and held that persons covered by the Washington Emergency Relief Administration who were engaged in extrahazardous work, remuneration for which was distributed as relief of the distressed by the state agency from federal and state funds, were not covered by the Workmen's Compensation Act.

            In theReid case,supra, the workman was putting plywood on the ceiling of the city hall which was being built by and under the direction of the WERA.  The town itself was not engaged in building the city hall, either through a grant in aid or otherwise, nor did it employ the workman.  In the course of the opinion the court stated that:

            "The WERA, acting as a purely relief agency of the state, constructed the building with labor employed and paid for immediately by it."

            Accordingly, the workman was not covered by the act.

            However, although the rule laid down by the Garney case and the rule laid down by theLawe case are somewhat inconsistent, we think they can be distinguished on the facts.   [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] In the latter case the extrahazardous work being performed was purely a relief measure of the state, which was being made merely for the purpose of emergency relief.  The particular governmental agency, whether county or city, was not authorized or required to perform the work, according to the court, nor was the work performed under the control of the county or city for whom the work was done.

            As we understand the facts, the present work relief projects are undertaken by a particular county or municipal corporation in the performance of its authorized duties.  In addition, the workers on the present projects are supervised in the performance of their work by regular employees of the governmental unit sponsoring the project.  Thus, it is our opinion that the rule laid down in the Garney case is the applicable rule under the circumstances.

            There is another point of distinction, although not a controlling one, between theGarney andLawe cases, involving the funds which are used in compensating the workers.  The funds in question are primarily those raised by the counties by means of the 2 mill levy, supplemented by state funds, whereas in the Lawe and Reid cases the funds used to pay workers were state and federal.

            In conclusion, it is our opinion that workers who are employed on projects which a county or municipal corporation is not authorized to carry on as a regular part of its business but which are manufactured projects merely for the purpose of providing work, are not within the scope of the act, but on the other hand, needy persons receiving work relief who are engaged in extrahazardous work on projects which a county or municipal corporation has undertaken in carrying out an authorized function of the particular governmental unit sponsoring the project, are covered by the Workmen's Compensation Act.

Yours very truly,

SMITH TROY
Attorney General

JANE DOWDLE
Assistant Attorney General

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