It’s 2019, the gig economy is booming, and independent contractors are in high demand. Forbes suggests that by as early as next year, the gig economy will make up 50% of the U.S. workforce. With more businesses partnering with independent contractors, it’s essential that employers properly classify workers.
Here’s how to distinguish employees from independent contractors, and what happens if you don’t.
Employees vs. Independent Contractors
Aside from taxes, the biggest difference is the level of control an employer has over the worker.
Typically, an employer that partners with an independent contractor defines the scope of work but doesn’t have control over how the project is completed. Because the independent contractor often uses their own tools and equipment, expenses aren’t usually reimbursed.
Independent contractors are just that… independent. They’re either paid by the project or by the hour, they set their own schedules, they can work offsite, and unlike employees, their work usually isn’t key to the success of the business.
How the IRS Determines Classifications
The IRS considers three categories when classifying independent contractors:
- Behavioral Control
- Financial Control
- Type of Relationship
|Behavioral Control||Financial Control||Type of Relationship|
|Employee||Has on-the-job training, set hours and guidelines for how their work should be completed.||The worker has guaranteed wages or salary.||Receives “employee type” benefits (i.e. PTO, insurance, pension plans, etc.)|
|Independent Contractor||Sets their own hours and decides how the project should be completed.||Paid a flat fee per project or job.||Contracted for a set time or number of projects.|
When determining the classification of an employee, keep this IRS quote in mind:
“There is no “magic” or set number of factors that “makes” the worker an employee or an independent contractor, and no one factor stands alone in making this determination. Also, factors which are relevant in one situation may not be relevant in another”.
The 2 Major Penalties for Misclassifying Employees
- Fines and Back Pay: If the Department of Labor (DOL) determines that misclassification was unintentional, an employer may be responsible for:
- $50 for each unfiled W-2
- 1.5% of the worker’s wages, with interest
- 40% of the worker’s FICA contributions (Social Security and Medicare)
- 100% of the employer’s FICA matching contributions
- Maximum penalty of 1 year in prison
- Up to $1,000 in criminal penalties for each misclassified employee
- 20% of all employee wages paid
- 100% of FICA contributions for both employer and employee
- Health and welfare coverage
- 401(k) contributions
Monetary fines aren’t the only challenge you’ll have to overcome. Fines and class action lawsuits can significantly tarnish your brand image, making it harder to recruit top talent, retain clients and grow. Together, these penalties can threaten the survival of any small to medium-sized business.
6 Basic Tips to Protect Your Business from Misclassifications
- Ensure there is a written contract in place for each independent contractor explaining their classification.
- State in the contract that independent contractors are not entitled to employee benefits.
- Provide all independent contractors with Form 1099 as required by the IRS.
- Document the factors you used to determine the worker’s classification.
- Obtain a worker’s full name, address and Social Security number before you pay them.
- Review your employee handbook and job descriptions to ensure workers’ duties are in line with what their role demands.
Can a Worker Be Both an Employee and an Independent Contractor?
Here’s a puzzle: what if you employ a full-time worker and they also do the occasional contracted work for your business on the side? Can you pay this worker as both a W-2 employee and as an independent contractor?
The safest bet would be to classify and pay this worker entirely as an employee for all the tasks they perform. However, if the employee has an established outside business, and the contracted work doesn’t pertain to this employee’s duties, then you may treat the employee as an independent contractor.
For example, if you have an employee who works as a bookkeeper but also has a side photography business, you may be able to hire them as an independent contractor while paying them as an employee for their normal duties.
How Paycor Can Help:We’re proud to keep more than 30,000 organizations up-to-date and compliant with federal and state employment laws. Interested in learning more? Consult with a Paycor representative.
*This content is for informational and educational purposes only and is not intended to be taken as legal advice. For legal advice, consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.
People Management Benchmark Quiz
The path to achieving excellence in people management is a continual journey. Find out what phase you’re in and get a customized action plan.Take Quiz
Stay Up to Date
Sign up to receive our latest research and expert advice.
Check your inbox for an email confirming your subscription. Enjoy!