Five (More) Signs Your Independent Contractor May Be Properly Classified

IMG_1079Last week I posted Five Signs Your Independent Contractor May Be Properly Classified. While I feel pretty good about the post, I also feel like there’s more where that came from. So here goes.

Five More Signs Your Independent Contractor May Be Properly Classified:

  1. The contractor has its own employees. Since contractors are in business for themselves, they should be free to hire their own employees. If they actually do, chalk up a few points.
  2. The contractor pays its own expenses. One indicator of a legitimate independent contractor relationship is that the contractor, if a sound businessperson, will earn a profit but, if a poor businessperson, will incur a loss. The profit/loss determination is often a function of how well the contractor prices its services. If you reimburse a contractor for all of its expenses, the risk of loss is generally removed. Legitimate independent contractors should be bearing some risk.
  3. The contractor works from its own office space. The flexibility to work wherever and whenever suggests proper classification as an independent contractor.
  4. The contractor works using its own tools and equipment. That’s more evidence that the contractor is running its own business and has more opportunity to incur a net loss.
  5. The contractor carries its own insurance. When a contractor carries the types of insurance typically carried by a business, the contractor is likely operating as a business. Look for General Commercial Liability and Workers Comp coverage.

Remember, the tests for determining Who Is My Employee? vary by law, and most test are balancing tests, so no single factor is likely to be determinative. Relationships with these five features, however, are more likely to have the scales tilted in favor of recognizing independent contractor status.

Joint Employment Is Like Taking Steroids By Accident

athlete-joint employment - staffing agency - 1840437_1920It seems like every month another professional athlete is caught using a prohibited substance. The typical script (after getting caught) is to blame the maker of a supplement. “I should have more carefully checked the label,” or “I had no way of knowing what was in that synthetic elephant urine.”

Fair or unfair, every athlete knows that he/she is responsible for what goes into the athlete’s body, whether the juicing was intentional or not.

The same rule applies to companies who use staffing agencies.

When workers are deemed to be joint employees, both the staffing agency and the company that benefits from the services are responsible for failures to follow employment law. It doesn’t matter who made the mistake.

Under the FLSA, for example, employers must pay non-exempt employees a minimum wage, must pay for all hours worked, must pay overtime, and must properly calculate overtime rates. Sometimes this is hard. Two traps that ensnare even the most sophisticated employers are the challenge of accounting for off-the-clock work (checking email by cell phone, for example), and calculating the base hourly rate when there are bonuses and other forms of compensation provided.

Joint employment means joint liability. If the staffing agency responsible for paying employees makes an error, both companies are on the hook. That means a company can be responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages  — including back pay, attorneys’ fees, and liquidated damages — for errors it had no control over.

When the potential exists for a finding of joint employment, be careful when selecting  vendors who supply workers. Here are three tips:

  1. Be sure any vendors who supply workers are reputable, competent, professional, and reliable. (Four tips in one! you’ll thank me later)
  2. Be sure they stand behind their obligations with a suitable (and specific) indemnity clause.
  3. Be sure they are sufficiently insured.

Remember, under the FLSA (and many other laws), your company may be jointly liable for a staffing agency’s mistakes — even if you had no control over their pay practices.

Using staffing agency workers is like taking a performance supplement. It may enhance the bottom line and improve overall performance, but any funny business is your responsibility.

It doesn’t matter who put the horse steroid in your protein powder. If you ingest it, you are responsible for it.

5 Signs Your Independent Contractor May Be Properly Classified

IMG_1076In March, we posted Five Signs Your Contractor May Be Misclassified (with Bob Seger lyrics!). Today we look at the other side of the same coin. While there is no sure fire, (Silver) bullet (Band) proof assurance that your contractor relationship will withstand a legal challenge, there are some facts that tend to strongly support legitimate independent contractor status.

Here are 5 signs your independent contractor may be properly classified.

  1. The contractor has an LLC or Corporation. When the IRS or DOL performs an independent contractior misclassification audit, the first thing it is likely to ask for is a list of who received 1099s in the past year. Receipt by individuals suggest possible misclassification. Companies are less of a flag.
  2. The contractor has other clients. The true hallmark of an independent contractor is that the person is in business for him/herself. Having other clients is a strong sign that the contractor is running a legitimate independent business.
  3. The contractor advertises its services in the marketplace. This may take the form of having a web page, flyers, even Facebook ads. Anything that suggests that the contractor is running a business and seeking buyers of its services is strong evidence in support of legitimate independent contractor status.
  4. Your relationship with the contractor is project-based or for a fixed term. Open-ended relationships resemble at-will employment. While a fixed-term relationship can still exist in employment, it’s better than indefinite. Best of all, though, is a project-based engagement. Retain the contractor for a particular project. When the project ends, the relationship ends. Period.
  5. The contractor is not a former employee of your company. Companies sometimes rebrand former employees as contractors. That’s generally too cute. Receipt of a W-2 and 1099 by the same person is a big fat red flag.

Remember, the tests for determining Who Is My Employee? vary by law, and most test are balancing tests, so no single factor is likely to be determinative. Relationships with these five features, however, are more likely to have the scales tilted in favor of recognizing independent contractor status.

Podcast: What You Need to Know About Independent Contractor Misclassification

IMG_1073This week, I am encouraging readers to tune in to this podcast from XpertHR, in which I discuss issues and hot topics related to independent contractor misclassification.

Topics covered include:

  • The attack on business models that rely on the use of independent contractors;
  • The future of misclassification claims;
  • Possible updates to the FLSA;
  • Industries that are most at risk for independent contractor misclassification claims; and
  • Common misconceptions.

I hope you enjoy this interview, and thank you to David Weisenfeld and Xpert HR.

Never Been Sued? Congratulations! Here’s Why You Should Re-Evaluate Your Use of Independent Contractors Now.

IMG_1072Have you ever heard someone say, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result“? That’s just wrong. No, it’s insanely wrong. (Irony! Actual definition, click here).

  • If you flip a coin 5 times and it comes up heads each time, is it insane to think it might come up tails next time?
  • If you play golf in a lightning storm five times and never get hit, is it insane to think you might get a nice electrical jolt next time?
  • If you root for the Browns to win a football game and they never do, is it insane to think they never will? [Note to self: Delete that. Bad example. It is true that they might never win a game. Shameful admission: I am a Browns fan.]

My consistent advice to companies that use independent contractors is to be proactive. Review your policies, practices, and documents now — before you get sued or audited. Many take this advice. Those who do not generally give two reasons:

  1. We don’t want to spend the money now; and
  2. We’ve always done it this way and have never been sued.

Folks, that kind of thinking is: n. extreme foolishness; folly; senselessness; foolhardiness.

Here are a few quick facts:

  1. Every company that has been sued for independent contractor misclassification had never been sued before the first time it was sued.
  2. Every company that has been audited for independent contractor misclassification had never been audited before the first time it was audited.

Continue reading

Can an Intern be an Independent Contractor? (Answers revealed in James Bond movies)

IMG_1068Among James Bond films, Rotten Tomatoes ranks Never Say Never Again 18th out of 26, with a mediocre 63% rating. (Bond movie quiz at the end of this post, for patient readers.)

It’s a cliche saying, I know, but my first reaction when asked this question was, “I’d never say never, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario where that would work.” (That was also my second reaction and my third. Let’s just say that’s my reaction.)

Let’s run this through the gauntlet. Remember, it’s not your choice whether an intern is an independent contractor or an employee. The law decides that for you, based on the nature of the relationship.

Test #1: Economic Realities Test. Under federal wage and hour laws, an independent Continue reading

Today’s Tip: Avoid Telling Contractors How to Perform the Work (with Stones lyrics)

IMG_1066The great scholar Mick Jagger reminds his followers that you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes well you might find you get what you need. This is good advice, not just for Mr. Jimmy (who did look pretty ill), but also for companies who use independent contractors.

In a true independent contractor relationship, the hiring entity knows what it needs. It needs results, but the details about how, when, and where to work toward those results are left to the contractor’s discretion. There is no oversight or supervision.

The more direction a company provides a contractor on how to perform the work, the more likely the contractor is misclassified and the relationship will be deemed employment. You might want to control these things, but if they are not necessary to get what you need, then you should try sometimes and you might find you can get what you need without exerting extra control over the contractor. Continue reading