SW Legal studies in Business

No Right of Action for Retaliatory Discharge by Independent Contractor
Description Iowa high court held that an independent contractor, unlike an employee, does not have a right of action for the tort of retaliatory discharge in violation of public policy for filing a complaint against the actions of an employer.
Topic Employment Law
Key Words Independent Contractor; Retaliatory Discharge; Public Policy
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Harvey worked for Care Initiatives (CI), a nursing home, under a contract that included a provision for termination upon thirty days notice by either party. Harvey performed various social worker services as a consultant for twelve hours a week. She also worked in a similar capacity for other nursing homes. When CI banned smoking by residents and staff of the nursing home, Harvey voiced her opposition to the administrator and to the state agency that regulates nursing homes, contending that the ban was a violation of the rights of the residents. CI gave her notice of her termination the next day. She sued for the tort of retaliatory discharge, contending that the firing was in violation of public policy. The trial court dismissed the suit; Harvey appealed.

Affirmed. It is a violation of public policy to terminate an employee for refusing to commit an illegal act. That rule does not apply to this case. No cause of action exists in Iowa for retaliatory discharge of an independent contractor for filing a complaint against a nursing facility, even though state law allows the filing of such complaints. Protection against retaliatory discharge in such instances applied only to residents and employees of the facility. An independent contractor does not have a right to sue in tort for wrongful termination. They have "greater control and flexibility in their work and in the hiring process" compared to employees. Independent contractors are governed by their employment contract and by the principles of contract law, which does not include a right of suit for termination in this circumstance.

Citation Harvey v. Care Initiatives, Inc., 634 N.W.2d 681 (Sup. Ct., Iowa, 2001)

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