Independent Contractor

1099 workers

I’m Independent Until I’m Not

Josh runs a localDriver1 courier service. He decides which jobs to accept and negotiates delivery fees with customers. When a customer calls, Josh looks at the roster of drivers and goes down the list until he finds a driver to handle the job.

His couriers are part-timers and include college students, stay at home moms, and a few Uber drivers. He treats everyone as an independent contractor because they use their own vehicles and set their own hours. All Josh requires is a clean driving record and proof of insurance.

Driver3Yesterday, Ron, a college student driver, was involved in a fender bender while making a delivery.  Ron is desperate to avoid telling his parents about the car. His parents bought the car for him as a reward for dropping his beer and pizza plan for college studies and getting serious about graduating.

Ron asks Josh to help pay for the repairs but Josh declines. He points out that Ron is an independent contractor, not an employee. Josh adds that it’s not his fault Ron was talking on his cell phone while driving and not paying attention to the traffic signals.

So Ron calls his mom to give her a hint that the car insurance premium may, possibly, kind of, increase due to unforeseen circumstances.  Like any experienced mother, Ron’s mom gets the real story within minutes. After she finishes explaining that idiots who can’t multitask shouldn’t try to drive and talk at the same time, she asks for more details about Josh’s courier business.

Driver2Ron’s mom works in HR for a major corporation and she’s just read about the U.S. Department of Labor’s new “economic realities” test. She thinks that Ron is actually an employee and not an independent contractor.

What should Ron’s mom do next?

  1. She can use her HR experience to compare Ron’s description of how the courier business is run to the DOL test and assess whether he’s an employee.
  2. She can ask one of the corporate attorneys at her company to give her an off-the-record assessment of the DOL test.
  3. She can contact Josh directly to argue that he should pay for the auto repairs because she believes her son is actually an employee of Josh’s business.

DOL released guidance on their new “economic realities” test about a year ago. This new test looks at whether a worker is economically dependent on the “employer”.  If yes, then the worker is an employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Expect to hear much more about this test.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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Outside Employment

unnamedKelly is glad to be back at work after a couple of weeks of family togetherness at the holidays. A few more days of vacation and she’d be ready to disown her parents and her in-laws, write the kids out of the will and talk to a divorce lawyer about her husband’s fate. It’s good to be back in the office where her job as HR Director suddenly seems simple.

Of course, that happy mood wears off before her first cup of coffee is finished. She’s still sorting through her email in-box when the company president barges into her office. He’s called a meeting to discuss a problem employee.

Kelly refills her coffee mug, sighs, and trudges to the president’s corner office to join the chief information officer and the CFO. The CIO explains that a misdirected phone call to her key lieutenant uncovered proof that Dan is running a side business. Dan is an IT department employee.

The misdirected phone call is from an individual who says he outsourced his company’s IT department to Dan. A quick investigation reveals that Dan has a personal IT business complete with a website advertising the same services he does for his employer. Dan has helpfully listed his company-issued cell phone number as the contact number for his side business.

The company president wants to fire Dan immediately, preferably by firing squad in the parking lot. The CIO and CFO also want to fire Dan but are worried about delicate negotiations on an IT contract. Dan has a small, but critical part to play in those negotiations. If Dan is fired he might take revenge by trying to screw up those negotiations. The management team looks at Kelly for her recommendation.


What’s best for the team?

What should Kelly recommend to the management team?

  1. She can agree with the company president that Dan should be fired immediately, but without the firing squad since that would create a mess in the parking lot, not to mention violating company employment policies.
  2. She can ask the CIO if there is a replacement for Dan so that he can be placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the negotiations.
  3. She can suggest that they proceed as usual, keeping the matter confidential until after the IT contract negotiations conclude and then fire Dan.

In the actual situation, the company decided to go with the third option because there was no replacement option. Immediately after the IT contract negotiations ended, the employee was fired with a note that he would never be eligible for rehire.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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She’s Not My Employee

Another update from the Jungle….
image008Rob has a small consulting business that does project-based work. That means Rob needs a flexible work force that can easily gear up when there are lots of clients, but can also gear down when projects are few.

Rob relies on a group of individuals that he classifies as independent contractors. For each project, Rob explains what the client wants, the deadlines that must be met, and the scope of work. The worker can accept or reject any project. Rob’s been happy with his flexible work force.

At a recent networking event, Rob heard that the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has decided to ditch its old “control” test for deciding if a worker is an independent contractor (1099) or an employee (W-2). Instead the DOL will use an “economic reality” test. Rob does some quick research at and finds the document outlining this new test. What he reads makes him reach for a bottle of Gentleman Jack.

After a couple of stiff drinks, Rob thinks he understands the main points of this new test. The
image010economic reality test says that a worker who is economically dependent on an employer is an employee and not an independent contractor. Rob doesn’t know if his workers are economically dependent on him. He uses them part-time and always believed that they did work for other consulting businesses.

Rob sees that the new test has several factors. The factor that most worries Rob is the one that says if the work performed is an integral part of the employer’s business, then the worker is a W-2 and not a 1099 worker. Rob knows that his consulting business depends on completing projects for his clients which requires the use of skills that his independent contractors have.

After another shot of Gentleman Jack, Rob does some worst case scenario calculations of what will happen if his workers must be converted to W-2’s. He realizes immediately that it wouldn’t be financially possible to convert all of them to employees.

What are Rob’s options?

  1. He can choose a couple of the independent contractors that have the broadest range of skills and offer to convert them to W-2’s who work full-time for him. All the other workers would no longer be eligible to work on his company’s projects.
  2. He can talk to his CPA about cash flow and tax strategies for dealing with the new economic reality test.
  3. He can continue business as usual, including drinking more Gentleman Jack, while he waits to see what DOL will do.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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Are My Guys 1099’s or W-2’s?

Another update from the HR Jungle….

Otis runs a lawn care business and has a small staff of permanent employees. During the summer months he hires extra workers as his work load increases. Many of these extra workers take other jobs because Otis doesn’t offer full-time employment.

Otis always treated these extra workers as independent contractors and issued a 1099 to them. As 1099’s, these workers are self-employed and responsible for all employment taxes. Many of these workers don’t want to be considered employees of Otis’ company because they like the bigger paychecks they get now.

Last week one of the temporary summer workers told Otis he talked to a friend who knows someone who says he (the summer worker) should be a W-2 employee.

What should Otis do next?

1. He should review the factors used by the IRS and the U.S. Dept. of Labor to determine if a worker is an independent contractor or an employee. Basically, the more control over how and when the job is done, the more likely the worker is a W-2 employee.
2. If an initial review indicates the summer workers should be re-classified as W-2 employees, Otis should immediately work with his payroll service to reclassify the workers as employees.
3. If Otis isn’t sure how to classify the summer workers based on his initial review, he should seek legal advice on how to classify the workers.
4. He should seek legal advice on the tax consequences of misclassifying W-2’s and 1099’s.

There is no bright line test dividing 1099 and W-2 workers; it depends on the total circumstances. Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help Otis do the initial review of the factors and gather the information needed by the attorney who will give a legal opinion to Otis.

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