Sticks & Stones: What Not to Call Your Independent Contractors


“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Au contraire. That old adage may have rang true on the playground — or more likely, it probably got you beat up if you actually said it on the playground — but it does not ring true when speaking  about your independent contractors. Words matter. A lot.

Remember, any court or agency evaluating whether your independent contractor relationship is properly classified (and is not employment) will look to the facts. The facts include whether the parties refer to the relationship in ways that resemble employment. Avoid using terms that sound like employment.

Here are 14 things not to say about your independent contractors:

  1. Do not “hire” your independent contractors. Retain them.
  2. Do not conduct “pre-employment screening” on your contractors. Instead, run background checks.
  3. Do not pay your independent contractor a “salary” or a “wage.” Just pay them.
  4. Do not have your independent contractors fill out applications. Applications are for employees.
  5. Do not give your contractors an Employee Handbook. They’re not employees.
  6. Do not have job descriptions for roles to be filled by independent contractors. Job descriptions are for employees.
  7. Do not run your contractors through “New hire training.” See #1.
  8. Do not “onboard” your contractors. Only your employees are coming on board.
  9. Do not process independent contractors through the Human Resources Department. Your human resources are your employees. Contractors are not your humans.
  10. Do not call your contractors “contract employees.” They’re not any kind of employees if you’re doing this correctly.
  11. Do not run your contractors’ compensation through “payroll.” Payroll is for employees’ paychecks, the ones that have deductions and withholdings.
  12. Do not tell your contractors they will be paid in accordance with “normal payroll cycles.” Employees get paid in accordance with your payroll cycles. Contractors’ pay should look different — in form and in timing.
  13. Do not reward your contractor with a “promotion.” Employees get promotions.
  14. Do not “supervise” your independent contractors. Just don’t.

And so, in conclusion…


© 2017 Todd Lebowitz, posted on, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.


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