If I Cut My Employee’s Hours, Can I Make Her an Independent Contractor?

Independent contractor part-time worker lizard

This question is best answered with an analogy to everyone’s favorite quadrupedal reptile – the lizard.

The lizard is a squamate reptile. I don’t know what squamate means, but I read it on Wikipedia. Lizards typically have four feet, external ears, and like to climb on the patio screens of retirees’ homes in Florida. Those are the defining characteristics that make them lizards.

Lizards also have tails, but they can shed those tails when in distress. I’m sure this makes the lizard sad, but sacrifices must be made.

The important point here is: Losing a tail doesn’t make a lizard any less of a lizard. (They are taught this by lizard psychotherapists.)

Now let’s get to the point. Today’s post is about what happens when businesses cut their employees’ hours. Workloads sometimes decrease to the point where employees are no longer needed for 40 hours a week. Maybe 10 hours is enough. Or maybe the work needed is sporadic — 5 hours one week, no hours the next week.

Can you convert these part-timers to independent contractors?

No, you can’t. A lizard is still a lizard after losing its tail, and an employee is still an employee after losing some hours. The lizard is not defined by the presence of its tail, and employee status is not determined by the number of hours worked.

It is ok to have an employee whose hours are minimal or occasional. Think of the high schooler who works once a week at the rec center. That’s an employee, not a contractor. The worker is an employee because of the work performed and the control the business has over how the work is done. An independent contractor, in contrast, is someone in business for herself.

What if the employee’s hours are reduced so much that she gets two other occasional jobs? That still doesn’t change the answer. If the work is classified as employment at 40 hours, it’s employment at 3 hours a week. Think of it this way: It’s employment the moment an employee shows up at the worksite. If the employee leaves the worksite after 30 minutes, the work performed for those 30 minutes was still employment.

Employment status doesn’t change based solely on the number of hours worked, and although this next fact is entirely irrelevant to the post, it is worth a quick mention since we have been discussing lizards. The Komodo Dragon is a lizard that has been known to eat mammals as large as a water buffalo (at least according to Wikipedia).


© 2018 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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