Workers Comp - Exemptions

We’ve been looking at hiring a few part-time workers to muck out stall and help kids tack up before lessons (as in 5 hours/week at most which would be compensated through a barter agreement: riding lessons in exchange for barn help basically).

We’re struggling to find worker’s comp coverage as the payroll would be so low (and many companies apparently don’t cover horse related activities) - and the insurance provider we get our Commercial Liability from doesn’t offer WC.

Our State as an agricultural employee exemption - but do lesson barn help count as “agricultural employees” (I’ve been reading the Federal Code and the state code but they’re mostly talking about racehorse operations and breeding operations).

Any advice?

Some states have a pool you can get into if you cannot buy private insurance.

Not sure how things are regulated in your state, but sometimes insurance companies who are on the hook for an injured person’s care costs will require them to sue you before they will pay out anything. So act as if the lawyers will be going after you hammer and tongs and act accordingly.


Good advice, thanks!

Your state may have an agricultural exemption to the workers compensation laws, but that leaves a question of how you’ll protect yourself from a claim that an injured worker might make against you. So many businesses in the horse industry classify their workers as “independent contractors,” when these workers (in the eyes of the law) might really be employees.

I’ve defended stables in a few cases involving injured stable workers. In one, a worker’s kneecap was shattered by a colt being moved out of a stall. In another, an exercise rider was injured when the horse flipped over on her. In another, the worker sustained facial fractures while using hay baling equipment. Medical bills were substantial in all of them, but the workers had no health insurance, and the stables had no workers comp insurance. In two of these cases, the stables had commercial general liability (“CGL”) insurance and the insurers were willing to offer a small amount of coverage, but these policies have “employee” (and other similar) exclusions

Bottom line: Secure a reliable opinion before you make (or don’t make) a coverage decision on workers comp. Safest approach is to keep seeking out an insurer willing to write the WC coverage for you, and get the coverage secured regardless of an exemption.


Thank you @Law_and_Horse_Sense! This is great advice.
If anyone is particularly happy with their insurance for Workers Comp (which covers horse operations and part time workers) feel free to PM recommendations!

LaHS has given you some spot on advice. Piling on to suggest you consult with a lawyer admitted in your state with employment law experience, because I’d urge you to consider not only worker’s comp exposure but also wage and hour issues, given the low pay/barter situation. Good luck and kudos for considering these issues.

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Late for the party. Bartering does not relieve you of the obligation of employment. You would need to place a value of the time spent or units of completed work. That would have to be monitized for a WC value. It would be far less complicated just to hire someone to do the work and forget the barter. Let them buy lessons at your going rate. Also, while it was not mentioned…be extremely careful about hiring minors. Pay attention to your state law about what minors can and cannot do as employment, as well as work hours and other restrictions. You may need to have the parents’ written permission to have the child work for you. My insurance will not cover any employee under age 18. I am old enough to have grown up where the model descibed by the OP was the normal model for running a barn. But that was 50+ years ago. Things are very different now. I totally understand the issue of labor needs and costs in running a barn. When I set up my horse business I deliberately did everything I could to minimize labor requirements. Basically if Mr. IF, IF Jr and I couldn’t do it, we didn’t offer that service.

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The barter agreement would be declared through the IRS and has a monetary value.
It’s just that the value apparently is too low since they would only work a couple hours/week (most insurance companies I’ve talked to, won’t quote under a payroll of $15,000).
And we’re not planning on employing minors. Thanks.

Do you still have to pay workman’s comp for 1099 workers?

No. However, unscrupulous employers have tried to claim that employees were “independent contractors” to get out of buying workers comp insurance so frequently that the IRS & other powers that be are on to that game. There’s fairly tough criteria by which they test if the employee is really an independent contractor. For example: 1) Does that employee 100% set their own work hours? 2) Do they provide all of their own equipment? Including manure forks, wheelbarrows, etc if mucking stalls? Ultimately, workers comp benefits the employer as well – an employee who takes a workers comp settlement waives their right to sue the employer. Paying workers comp premiums is a heck of a lot cheaper than paying out damages in a suit brought against you for a catastrophic OTJ injury to an employee.

@Kirikou, check with your farm policy agent. On many commercial liability policies you can get a rider for “Incidental Employees”. Depending on your state’s definition of an incidental employee, that may work for you.


Yes, these occasional barn workers who are here from 6:30am to 7:30am to feed/muck out wouldn’t really qualify as “ind. contractors”.

Thank you @TheDBYC, I’ll check on the definition of ‘incidental employees’ and see whether my CGL would cover this!

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