Do you laugh at the home and garden shows on cable TV? Do you snort in derision watching those folks spend tens of thousands of dollars on contractors? Do you smirk to yourself because you know you can do the same thing better, faster, and cheaper? Well of course you do, you’re an Alaskan. Even before Home Depot and Lowes came to town we had Spenard Builder’s Supply, Eagle Hardware, and you could quote the price of a spanner wrench at your local ACE store. When it comes to adding on or building from scratch, no one beats an Alaskan at getting things done. And not just with Visqueen, blue tarps, and duct tape, either.
On a normal day you could sheetrock a hanger holding Alaska Airlines’ latest 737-stretch in an easy day’s work. But what happens when you only have a morning? Perhaps your spouse has lined you up for a snowshoe softball game this evening, or some fish is running in some creek somewhere. Unfortunately your best bud is rough-necking on the Slope this week, and your brother is sleeping off a 4-pack of wine coolers on a beach in Hawaii. What now?
Well, normally if you needed a little extra help you’d head on down to Beans Café where there are plenty of folks looking for honest work. The modern version is to check on Craig’s List from your smartphone while driving to the local man store. Either way you’ll find some chap willing to hammer, screw, lay tile, hang ‘rock, or just generally clean up your mess when you’re done. For a hundred bucks or a promise of fresh salmon, Alaskan men will do most anything.
Unfortunately, you have now begun to tread upon the realm of The Man. The Government. The State. The usurious villainy of a democratic republic. A homeowner, or anyone else for that matter, who chooses to hire someone to do something, must comply with all the rules and regulations just like those fancy contractors who have websites and their names on their pickups. This can be a rude awakening for many. You just needed someone to haul Trex around the house while you’re putting on the hot tub deck, or perhaps someone to mix and pour concrete on the motorhome pad next to the garage. But if you’re paying them, you’re an employer in the eyes of the state.
Fortunately this probably doesn’t mean you’ll have to read up on Obamacare. But you do have certain responsibilities. Perhaps the foremost of real concern is workman’s compensation. Didn’t come to mind? Paying insurance for just hiring some dude off the internet now and again? Actually, yes, you are responsible. If that poor fella trips over the water hose, bangs his thumb with a hammer, or slips and cracks his head while shoveling your driveway, he is a worker by Alaska standards and you are his employer. It is necessary to report to the state that you have worker’s compensation insurance, and of course pay necessary premiums.
There are other requirements, too, such as keeping records of your employees, tax records, immigration forms, minimum wage laws, etc. etc. etc. If nothing ever goes wrong one never has to worry, right? More or less. Of course our laws aren’t written for when things go right, but for when the unexpected happens. Let’s say that poor fella really does get hurt. There he is banging away with the nail gun and the compressor hose bursts. Safety glasses are for wimps, so naturally splinters and other debris fly straight to his face blinding him for all eternity. Or at least until the trial is over. The State will try to hold you responsible for the entirety of his medical care and later disability, and will be knocking on your door grinning from ear to ear. Actually you’ll get a nasty little letter letting you know that a worker’s comp claim has been filed, the State presumes you are responsible for the costs, and, by the way, there will be fines galore for not having the proper insurance in place and on file.
So what does this all actually mean? The average Joe Alaska isn’t going to run out and get worker’s compensation insurance. He’s also not going to be checking the bonafides of his day help. He may not be keeping records or reporting employment taxes to the IRS. This is Alaska, free man’s country, where we take care of things up front and don’t need nor want the government standing around looking over our shoulder making sure the paint is the proper color, consistency, and lead-free. This ain’t Bolder or San Francisco, it’s Willow, or Tok, or Aleknagik. What it means is that we need to carefully consider what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, and who’s doing it. We need to remain aware that we are responsible if something untoward happens. After an accident you’ll probably think hiring that licensed small business contractor who already has the proper employment credentials and insurance would have been faster and cheaper. He hires the fella from Beans or off Craigslist and actually insures them.
Will anything change after reading this little blerb? Likely not, but us attorneys are around when the unthinkable or the unknowable happens. So if your brother is snoring away on a tropical isle and your high school buddy is raking in big coin in the oil patch and you still need help slinging mud, keep in mind you are an employer, and subject to the crushing wheels of justice.