High court says tennis pro is employee and socks club $22,000

The high labor court has upheld a money judgment against a tennis club because justices considered a sports professional who gave classes there to be an employee. The decision is instructive to expats who may hire part-time labor or provide space for third parties to work.

The decision awarded the tennis pro 11 million colons (about $22,000), and the Sala Segunda ordered that the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social be notified of the labor relationship.

The tennis pro gave classes on the club’s court, but he collected the money from students himself and did not share any with the club, according to the decision. The decision identified the tennis pro by the initials RGB. The club was identified by the initials of CRTCSA, which stand for Costa Rica Tennis Club S.A., a Sabana Sur fixture.

The pro filed the case in 2007. He sought back overtime, notice, vacation pay, aguinaldo, the Christmas bonus, interest and damages.

A trial court awarded the tennis pro 25 million colons. An appeals court upheld the sentence, so the tennis club appealed to the Sala Segunda, part of the Corte Suprema de Justicia.

The club argued that it received no money from the work of the tennis pro and that he provided his own tools, that is
rackets and balls. The man worked from 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. giving classes to youngsters and the rest of the time to adults, all members of the club, said the decision, citing testimony. Remuneration, subordination or control and providing tools are usually considered hallmarks of a labor agreement.

The court decided that the pro was subject to subordination or control because he had to present a list of times each week to the club official in charge of assigning tennis court space. He also had to present a monthly plan to the management, it said. And he sometimes had to attend meetings.

The pro also was told how much to charge for his services, something the court said was inconceivable for professional services. The pro also had to follow other rules, such as wearing a uniform and not using a cell telephone while on the tennis court, the decision said.

The man gave classes at the club for nearly seven years. The five judges attributed to the man a monthly salary of 500,000 colons. a bit more than $1,000. At that rate the justices awarded him two week vacation a year plus other benefits.

The Caja most likely will seek its share of social charges from the salaries estimated by the court.

The decision is the latest in a series by labor courts that seem to favor strongly independent contractors who later decide they really were employees and seek back pay and benefits for their customers.

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