Casual Labor

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A term of art used to refer to work that does not further the business of the employer, typically done on a one-time or very sporadic basis.

Because “casual labor” is not defined in any state statute, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania in Flaherty v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review (1955) relied on the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania’s interpretation of casual labor in Cochrane v. William Penn Hotel (1940) to define the term.

According to Cochrane, employment may be considered casual in character if the person is employed only occasionally, at comparatively long and irregular intervals, for limited and temporary purposes, or if the hiring in each instance is a matter of special engagement.

When it comes to determining the nature of one’s employment, the amount of responsibility assigned is not generally indicative of whether the labor is casual or not–but the duration of the employment is. Even in cases involving a single or special job, the employment is considered formal (not casual) if the work is not of an emergency or incidental nature but instead represents a planned project, and the tenure of the service necessary to complete it and for which the employment is to continue is relatively long. For example, a carpenter enlisted for the duration of a construction project would not be considered a casual laborer if the project was planned and executed over an extended period of time. Likewise, in Flaherty, the appellant’s employment was created on the premise that his service would be required until the completion of the structure that his employers sought to make. The court found it irrelevant that the appellant’s work was no longer needed in the later stages of the project and held, based on the terms of his employment, that he was not a casual laborer and was eligible for unemployment benefits.

Relevant terms:

Labor law

[Last updated in June of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]