The difference between an employee and independent contractor comes down to the amount of control and responsibility the employer has over them. While there are several advantages to hiring an independent contractor rather than an employee, misclassifying an employee can have severe legal ramifications. And yet several studies show that 10-20% of employers misclassify at least one worker as an independent contractor. It's important to understand the differences and how to reduce your risk of liability.
In 2016, Lyft paid $27 million to settle a claim that their drivers, classified as independent contractors, are legally employees. The argument was that their drivers perform essential functions, and that Lyft exercises a significant amount of control over how their drivers work. While California Proposition 22 now allows Lyft drivers to be classified as contractors, the distinction is battle that Lyft continues to fight — and if they lose, could force them to pay millions in back wages and expense reimbursements.
The case showed how much gray area there can be when classifying a worker. You'd think that if a driver can choose their own hours, they'd be independent. But Lyft can assign particular rides to drivers, controlling when and where they work. Drivers use their own vehicles, but the vehicles must meet quality standards as determined by Lyft.
Understanding the minute differences between independent contractors and at-will employees cannot be undervalued. If you are uncertain of the correct legal classification of each of your workers, conduct an audit now before any potential claims occur.
Besides ensuring that you are correctly classifying a worker, you also should be careful about the language you use in agreements you give independent contractors. Verbiage that implies an employment relationship is evidence that can be used to back up an employee claim.
Both Forms W-2 and 1099 are issued by employers to report wages and other compensation paid to their workers. While at-will employees receive a W-2, independent contractors only recieve a 1099. You will need to fill out Form 1099 if you paid $600 or more to an independent contractor. The contractor then uses the form to report their income on their tax return and to calculate their self-employment tax.
While there are several types of 1099s, depending on the types of payments made, the most common is 1099-NEC, used to report non-employee compensation. A less common 1099 Form is 1099-MISC, which is used if you award an independent contractor a monetary prize not part of their regular compensation. This is also the form you should give to your contracted employment attorney. Learn more in this FAQ
provided by the IRS.