Misclassifying Workers as Independent Contractors Can Be A Costly Mistake

Using independent contractors in your business can save money.  Independent contractors do not receive typical company benefits such as vacation, sick pay or health insurance/retirement benefits.  Plus, employers don’t pay social security taxes (FICA), or provide unemployment benefits. However, it is easy to blur the line between a true independent contractor and employee and the IRS is cracking down.

In order to be considered an independent contractor, a worker should meet certain criteria.  Control is one of the primary determinators.  What is your level of control over the worker?  An independent contractor determines how and when work will be performed whereas an employee’s work parameters are established by the employer.  For example, if you require a worker to attend regular meetings, work set hours and use specific materials and equipment, then in most cases that worker is an employee because you are exercising significant control over his/her job performance.

Other factors include such things as:

  • Working relationship. Does the worker have other clients with whom he works or does he work exclusively for you?  An independent contractor is in business for himself so he should have other clients or at least be in the market to acquire other business opportunities.
  • Work hours. An independent contractor should, in most cases be able to set his own work schedule. As long as the contractor meets the deadline established by the client, he can decide his own work schedule.
  • Work location. Generally, an independent contractor provides for his own work location, materials and equipment.  In other words, his primary office is not located at your company’s facility.
  • Expenses. Employees typically submit their work-related expenses to their employer for reimbursement. An independent contractor, however, generally absorbs expenses as part of the cost of doing business.
  • Taxes. An independent contractor pays his own taxes by filing quarterly estimated tax returns.  Your company does not withhold taxes.

If the IRS determines you have misclassified a worker as an independent contractor rather than an employee, get out your checkbook.  You may be charged for back taxes, interest and penalties.  In fact, there is even the possibility of criminal charges.  And in some cases the misclassified worker has been able to sue the employer for lost benefits during the time in which he should have been considered an employee.

The IRS has a set of guidelines an employer can use to determine the proper status of a worker.  If you are still uncertain, give us a call us.

While in the short-term, using independent contractors in your business may save you money, it could cost you significantly more in the long-term.  Make sure you make the right choice.

 

If you have additional questions about this post or any other, please contact us directly at 928-778-0079.

Schutte & Hilgendorf is a leading Prescott CPA firm, offering superior client service to individuals, small businesses, non-profit organizations, and homeowners associations.

Our services include accounting, bookkeeping, audit, review, tax return preparation, tax planning, payroll and QuickBooks consulting.  We are located in Prescott and serve all of Yavapai County, and Northern Arizona.


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