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Independent Contractor Laws and Regulations

IRS, Department of Labor, Social Security Administration

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What is an Independent Contractor?
An independent contractor is an individual who does work for an other individual or company. The contractor is, by definition, independent, and not an employee of the hiring company. A perfect example of an independent contractor is a cleaning service. The service comes into your office to do work, but the cleaning service workers are not employees of your company.

How are independent contractors paid? What benefits and taxes are paid?
Contractors may be paid by the hour or by the project, depending on the type of work done. The contractor is not an employee of the company and receives no employment benefits. The hiring company does not pay employment taxes on behalf of the independent contractor, including Social Security/Medicare tax and unemployment tax. The hiring company also does not withhold income taxes and employment taxes from the independent contractor. Read more about how an independent contractor is paid.

What laws relate to independent contractors?

Internal Revenue Service
The IRS requires that workers be properly classified as either employees or independent contractors. It sets up factors for auditors to review when considering the status of a worker: behavioral controls, financial controls, and the nature of the relationship. The IRS assumes that a workers is an employee unless it can be proven that the worker is an independent contractor. Read more from the IRS: 7 Tips for Business Owners relating to independent contractor status vs. employee status.

Determining Worker Status
The IRS allows either the worker or the hiring company to apply for a determination on the status of a worker or workers as independent contractor or employee. Use Form SS-8 for this request for determination.

IRS and Income Taxes

  • Employers are required to send contractors (those who are paid $600 or more in the course of a year) a 1099-MISC form showing total earnings for the year. The due date for 1099-MISC forms is the end of January, for the preceding year.
  • Independent contractors must furnish a valid taxpayer ID number (Social Security Number, Employer ID Number, or other) to the hiring company. If the taxpayer ID is not valid or is incorrect, the hiring company is required to deduct backup withholding from the contractor's payments.
  • Because independent contractors are business owners, they must pay self-employment taxes on their earnings from self-employment. Self-employment taxes do not apply if the contractor is the owner of a corporation.

Department of Labor
The Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, calls the relationship between independent workers/business owners and their hiring companies as "merely contractual" and not an employment relationship for the purposes of Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regulations. Thus, independent contractor relationships are not subject to FLSA provisions for minimum wage, overtime, youth employment, and record keeping.

The Department of Labor, like the IRS, reviews workers to determine if they meet the criteria of employees for FLSA provisions. The DOL discusses Supreme Court decisions on independent contractors, which have held that there is no one single rule or test for independent contractor or employee for FLSA purposes. The Court has held that it is the total activity or situation which controls. Among the factors considered significant are:

  • The extent to which the services rendered are an integral part of the principal's business
  • The permanency of the relationship
  • The amount of the alleged contractor's investment in facilities and equipment
  • The alleged contractor's opportunities for profit and loss
  • The amount of initiative, judgment, or foresight in open market competition with other required for the success of the claimed independent contractor.
  • The degree of independent business organization and operation.
Other factors deemed immaterial to the question:
  • The place where work is performed
  • the absence of a formal employment agreement
  • whether the alleged independent contractor is licensed by the state/local government
  • the time or mode of pay does not control the determination of employee status.

Because they are independent business owners, these employment laws are not relevant to independent contractors:

See DOL Fact Sheet 13

More about hiring and paying independent contractors.

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