June 22, 2017

Hiring someone as an independent contractor can have many advantages for employers.

Among them are that independent contractors:

  • Can be hired on a per-project basis and let go when the project is complete,
  • May be more experienced workers who want to maintain a degree of independence and don’t require the supervision that is necessary with employees, and
  • Don’t have to receive fringe benefits or workers compensation.

On the other hand, although most companies are aware of the problems of misclassifying employees as independent contractors, potentially expensive situations still arise. And they can lead to back taxes, penalties and fines. It pays to know the difference.

Generally, the degree of control you exercise over a worker determines whether he or she is an employee or independent contractor. For example:

  • Employers typically provide a workers’ materials and tools, while independent contractors usually provide their own.
  • Employers set an employee’s work hours while an independent contractor usually has the right to set his or her own schedule.
  • The more “integrated” or central a job is to a company’s operations, the more likely the worker is to be considered an employee.

The chart below can help you determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. Unfortunately, no single factor determines a worker’s status. The IRS and other government agencies, as well as courts that hear related cases, examine a variety of factors.

To protect your organization, you can request documents from an independent contractor that will help you prove his or her status in the event the IRS or other government agencies ask for it. These include copies of advertising or directory listings, business name statements, an Employer Identification Number (if he or she has employees) and business licenses or professional licenses.


  • Worker must obey instructions concerning when or how to perform the job.
  • Company provides training.
  • Services must be performed by the worker. The company hires, supervises or pays a worker’s assistants.
  • The worker has an ongoing relationship with the company.
  • The company sets the work hours.
  • The company requires full-time work at its business.
  • The company controls where the work is performed and the order in which tasks are done.
  • The worker receives payment by hour, week or month.
  • The company provides tools and materials.
  • The worker generally doesn’t take on any financial risk and the company pays travel and business expenses.
  • The worker can usually quit without liability for failure to complete a job.

Independent Contractor

  • Worker is responsible for the outcome of the job and can determine how it is to be done.
  • Worker may be licensed by a state board and may have invested considerable sums in training.
  • Worker can hire assistants and is responsible for their pay.
  • Worker advertises or otherwise makes his or her services available to the general public.
  • The worker can set his or her own hours.
  • Worker can work for more than one company at the same time.
  • The worker can complete tasks at his or her office or home. He or she decides how to finish the job.
  • Independent contractors are usually paid on a per job or commission basis.
  • The worker provides his or her own tools, materials and facilities and has often made a significant investment in them.
  • The worker can realize a profit or loss from a job and generally pays the expenses incurred for the job.
  • The worker is liable for completing a job according to contract.

If you’re still unsure whether a worker qualifies as an independent contractor, your tax professional can help you make this determination.

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