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Your Rights as an Independent Contractor

Part 1: Independent Contractor or Employee

 More of this Feature
• Part 1: Independent Contractor or Employee
• Part 2: Control vs. Independence
• Part 3: IRS Common-Law Rules
• Part 4: IRS Industry Examples
 Related Resources
• Consulting Business Books
• Contract Jobs
• Contractor Rates
• Independent Contractor Agreement
• Labor Laws
• Tempting
• Getting Started as an Independent Contractor
 Elsewhere on the Web
• Contract Employee's Handbook
• Independent Contractors FAQ
•  DOL: Employment Relationship under the FLSA
•  IRS: Independent Contractor or Employee?
•  IRS: Form SS-8 (PDF)

Probably the main reason you became an independent contractor (aka consultant, freelance and IC) or want to, is to be your own boss. Unfortunately, some U.S. companies don't fully understand the difference between independent contractors and employees. Even among companies that do understand the difference, there are those that attempt to exploit the relationship, because it's clearly to their advantage to do so.

Companies don't have to withhold federal, state and Social Security (FICA) taxes, or pay unemployment or workers' compensation insurance for independent contractors. They also don't need to offer benefits like paid sick leave, vacation, health insurance and stock options, as they do to attract and retain employees. In fact, companies don't have to offer much of anything to independent contractors, except that for which they've agreed by contract (independent contractor agreement). That saves tons of paperwork and big bucks, giving dishonest companies lots of incentive to cheat independent contractors of their rights. The cheaters (and naive) misclassify workers as independent contractors, but still attempt to control them as employees. In doing so, they reap the benefits of both worlds, while depriving independent contractors of the very reason they became independent contractors in the first place: to be their own bosses.

Many misclassified independent contractors don't fully understand the difference either, which helps to perpetuate the problem. Here's how it's supposed to work when you are correctly classified as an independent contractor:

  • Companies are not your employers per se, but your clients. As such, they are not entitled to direct you in your work.
  • Of course, your clients have a right to say what they expect for the rates they're paying you, but only as it relates to the outcome of the project.
  • It's your right to decide when, where and how to get the project done.

Natch, it's wise for you to satisfy your clients at the project level, if you wish to get paid and receive favorable referrals for landing more contract jobs. But that doesn't mean you must allow a client to control you as an employee. That's against the law.

In other words, by U.S. law, an employer cannot classify you as an independent contractor, then dictate when, where and how you work, as though you are an employee. It's all about degree of control and independence.

Next Page > Independent Contractor Law - Control vs. Independence
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