DOL

What’s Your Classification?

Another update from the Jungle…..

At this time of year, as we all think about income taxes and payroll withholding, the perennial issue arises. When is a worker an employee (IRS Form W-2) and when is a worker an independent contractor (IRS Form 1099)?

For decades the answer was straightforward: look at “control”. When a company controls what, when, where and how a worker performs assigned tasks, the worker is an employee. By contrast, independent contractors are given a task and a deadline, and they control how, where, and when they complete the task.

Then life got complicated. In 2015 the Dept. of Labor (DOL) proposed raising the salary level of the overtime rule to $913 per week. Employees with weekly wages below that amount would be entitled to overtime pay if they worked more than 40 hours in a work week. It meant that more employees would be eligible for overtime pay.

At the same time, the DOL adopted the “economic reality” test. If the economic reality was that a worker was financially dependent on the company, then the worker was a W-2 employee. The practical effect of the test was to eliminate the classification of “independent contractor”.

To understand why the DOL took these actions, it helps to understand the philosophical approach of regulatory authorities. Regulatory authorities, including the IRS and DOL, recognize that someone will always find a way to game the system. (Remember the tax shelters that allowed some people to claim they had no taxable income?) So the regulators try to deter gaming by creating tediously detailed regulations that everyone complains are strangling businesses and the economy. (Of course, we eventually learn how to game new rules and complain when they change again.)

In 2015, the DOL wanted to deter perceived abuse of the “exempt” status in the overtime rule, and it wanted to ensure that more individuals would be covered by an employer’s group health plan as contemplated by the Affordable Care Act. To meet these objectives, the DOL proposed raising the salary limit and adopted the “economic reality” test.

The economic reality test was withdrawn, and we’re back where we started with the “control” test. The proposed overtime rule was also withdrawn, and the DOL is considering raising the salary limit but by a lesser amount.

However, it’s still critical to properly classify workers because the consequences of getting it wrong can be financially catastrophic. DOL civil penalties start at over $1,000 per employee per violation. The IRS can assess civil penalties and require a company to restate years of tax filings. Misclassified workers can sue for lost wages and benefits. It’s a triple whammy that few companies could financially survive.

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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Bored to Tears

Trng-2Celia is the HR manager for her company and she handles the internal training when the staff needs to be updated about new employment laws or regulations. She’s been very busy lately preparing to explain the proposed regulations by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) on new overtime rules and the DOL’s new “economic reality” test for independent contractors.

Celia’s fascinated by the process of how these new rules are formulated. She wants to understand why the DOL perceives employment problems that need to be fixed. She thinks understanding this background will help her explain the new rules to her fellow employees. Celia creates a PowerPoint presentation that summarizes what she’s learned.

The big day arrives and her co-workers reluctantly gather in the training room. Celia begins her presentation with PowerPoint slides about the Fair Labor Standards Act which is the basis for the new guidance and rules. Then she talks about DOL’s reasons for changing the rules.

Trng-3After ten minutes, an employee asks how the new rules will affect his job. Celia tells him “we’ll get to that in a minute” and clicks through to the next slide. The third time she repeats that phrase, employees begin shifting in their chairs. Some employees surreptitiously check their devices for emails or the latest Candy Crush game.

At the half hour mark, Celia notices that the crowd has thinned. The smart employees grabbed seats near the back of the room so that they could escape. The sycophantic employees and those angling for promotions are hopelessly trapped near the front of the room and forced to continue listening to her presentation.

Celia limps through the rest of her presentation and asks if there are questions. People glare at each other to ensure no one is stupid enough to prolong the suffering by asking questions. Celia ends the training session and one person is trampled in the dash for the exits.

What could Celia do at her next training session to keep people engaged?

  1. She could use flashier PowerPoint slides to keep everyone’s attention.
  2. She could create handouts with key points for discussion and stop using PP slides.
  3. She could revise her presentation to explain how the new rules will specifically affect her co-workers’ jobs.

The above scenario is an only-slightly fictionalized account of dozens of in-house training sessions that I’ve experienced over the years.  No co-workers were ever trampled so there was nothing to break the monotony.  To avoid Celia’s fate at your company’s next training session, consider using the third option by making the information specific and relevant to the employees.

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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I’m Not His Employee

Another update from the Jungle….
image011Addison works for Rob, who has a consulting business. (We met Rob in last week’s post.) The work is sporadic and project-based but she likes it that way because she’s a free spirit. Addison worked for large corporations for many years and is happy to be on her own now.

She does project-based work for several businesses, including Rob’s, and also has a few clients of her own. She dislikes sales and prospecting for clients because she prefers to focus on the work. She likes working for Rob because he pays quickly and the projects allow her plenty of scope for imagination.

Today when she stopped by Rob’s office to discuss the next project, she found him in a strange mood and slightly hung over from overindulging in Gentleman Jack. Rob began talking about financial problems. At first Addison thought he was telling her that he was insolvent. Then she realized he was talking about some new policy of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).
image015The DOL recently said that it would no longer use the “control” test to determine if a worker is an independent contractor (1099 worker) or an employee (W-2 worker). Instead, the DOL plans to use an “economic reality” test. This new test has a number of factors but can be summed up by saying that if a worker is economically dependent on the employer, then the worker is a W-2 and not a 1099.

Addison accepts Rob’s offer of a shot of Gentleman Jack, although she prefers Buffalo Trace, and they sit in a gloomy silence as they contemplate what the new test means for each of them. Addison dreads the idea that she could again be classified as a W-2 because she likes being free to work at her pace and only on things she enjoys doing.

What should Addison do next?

  1. She can explain to Rob that she has other clients in addition to the work she does for him and so she thinks that she truly is an independent contractor.
  2. She can incorporate her business now that she has the money to do so rather than continuing to operate as a d/b/a. Incorporating is additional proof that she is running her own business.
  3. She can wait to make any changes until she has more information.

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 www.dol.gov/whd 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.

Download my FREE eBook today! Click here! 

Click here to join the HR Compliance Jungle today.

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