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Tattoo artist was ‘independent contractor’

Tattoos may have gone mainstream, but if you’ve seen “Miami Ink” or “LA Ink” on cable, you know that tattoo artists remain untamed.

The Virginia Court of Appeals acknowledged as much today, when it said a tattoo artist was an “independent contractor,” not an “employee” of a Richmond tattoo parlor operated by Creative Designs Tattooing Associates Inc. Unfortunately for the particular artist’s estate, the appellate court reversed an award of death benefits after the artist was shot at the shop in 2005 and later died of his wounds.

Earle Lindsey Parrish III had a chair at the tattoo parlor and kept regular hours, splitting his fees with the shop owner.  The Workers’ Compensation Commission said Parrish could open and close the shop, had scheduled work hours and qualified as an “employee.”

But Judge James W. Haley Jr. said the paramount issue was control of what Parrish did. He provided his own tools and negotiated with his clients about their tattoos and his fees. He was not paid a salary and had no benefits. The shop owner had no list of rules about hours or breaks. Parrish was an independent contractor, not covered by workers’ compensation, the panel majority said.

Judge Larry Elder dissented. Elder said Creative Designs’ owner set standards for and hired and fired the artists and had the final word on the quality of their work and the resolution of customer complaints.  Parrish had started with a 35-percent share of the fee but had been “promoted” to a 55-percent cut because of his “managerial” duties, making him an “employee,” according to Elder.

By Deborah Elkins

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