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Norm's Desk

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Are Strippers Employees or Independent Contractors?

LeAndra Lewis was working the Boom Boom Room in Columbia, South Carolina when shots rang out in the club. Ms. Lewis was seriously wounded in the crossfire and was forced to retire from strip dancing as a result.

She sought benefits under South Carolina's workers compensation insurance claiming she was an employee of the Boom Boom Room.

Everyone loves legal cases involving strippers, but Ms. Lewis's case also provides a nice window into how courts analyze the employee relationship and determine whether someone is an employee or an independent contractor. To be sure, every regulatory agency has its own sets of facts or checklists used to determine proper status. The IRS has an extremely long list. No single factor controls which is where we get the phrase "totality of the circumstances."

The SC court looked at four factors similar to those considered in Texas and many other states.

  1. Right of control and direct work;
  2. Furnishing of equipment;
  3. Method of payment; and
  4. Right to fire.

Right of Control

Employers control the method and means of their employees' work.  Independent contractors are hired to do a job with little to no supervision.  The Court in this case held that the "extent to which an exotic dancer in the Boom Boom Room decides the manner in which she performs her dance to satisfy the club's customers, according to the record in this case, is not subject to any limitation or control by the club."  Thus, this point indicated Ms. Lewis was not an employee.

Furnishing Equipment

Independent contractors bring their own tools and equipment to the job.  Ms. Lewis argued that the "tools' of her job were entirely supplied by the Boom Boom Room, such as the bar, couches, pools, drinking glasses, etc.  The court was not persuaded:

"There is no practical possibility that an exotic dancer might bring her own stage, poles, chairs, couches, or bar glasses. From the standpoint of both the Boom Boom Room and its customers, Lewis brought her own "equipment" for her work."

Method of Payment

An employee is paid a set wage for the work he performs.  The independent contractor bears the risk of profit and loss for his work.  Indeed, Ms. Lewis paid the club to dance and kept the remainder of her earnings.

Right to Fire

Perhaps the most significant factor against Ms. Lewis' efforts to establish herself as an employee was the non-exclusive nature of her dancing for the Boom Boom Room.  This was the first night she had ever danced there.  She routinely moved between different clubs in the area.  The Boom Boom Room exercised no control over this movement. 

The issue of whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor is susceptible to abuse on both sides.  Applying these factors can help you determine whether you have an employee or an independent contractor on your payroll.  


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