Contract employee, independent contractor…there’s a difference? (Part 1 of 3)

Yes, there is. Knowing the difference can save you and your company a load of fines should you ever have a government audit.

The most basic difference is control. A contract employee (CE) is just that, an employee under contract. Employees are ,by the very definition, employed by the company for whom they perform a service. The contract between the employee and the employer can be short or long, by project, by expertise, by anything that is agreed upon by the two parties. A deal is struck, consideration is negotiated and paid, and at the end of the contract, renegotiation or termination occurs.

For a CE, renegotiation or termination is a key to keeping the person as contract and not an actual company employee. If the contract is written so that it is automatically renewed, then the ‘contract employee’ becomes a ‘regular employee’ and is due any benefits and status as any other person under traditional employ. The (now) employer is also responsible for all employment taxes…which is what the company wants to avoid.

Think temp-to-perm

The contract for the contract employee is held by the company to whom that person reports, which is not always the company for whom the person performs services. Manpower, Kelly, Accountemps, are familiar brand names to many. Temporary employees are under contract with a Manpower-type service and are sent out under contract to either a company that needs to fill a position and wants to “try out” a person’s skill sets or needs a particular short-term service performed, but doesn’t want to deal with negotiating a contract with a specialist.

Yes, there is a contract between a temporary and temp-to-perm company, but these contracts are for a percentage of wages paid over the course of an assignment (typically one percent of total gross wages). For example, say I need to fill a credit union manager position that has been temporarily vacated by a person going out on family medical leave (FMLA). I know my manager will be out for three full months beginning on a set date and returning on or about another set date. XYZ ManagerTemp agency has a slew of people registered in their databanks with not only managerial experience, but also with skills on our industry-specific computer system. The agency has already completed background checks and has W-2s on file.

When I call the agency, I let them know what I can pay and, though I have the option of just having someone sent over, I can also choose to have a selection scheduled for interviews. From the selection I choose, I can then see the skills-test results and written confirmation of the clear background checks. I choose the person, call the agency, and the person comes to work at my credit union.

Now, even though the temporary employee is under actual contract with the agency and must work under their policies, while performing for my credit union, that person must also work under our policies and follow our procedures. In other words, the agency does not control how the work is done, just the person’s schedule. Time off, tardiness, behavioral problems, all of these are handled by the agency. That is, if a temp needs to take time off for a personal matter, that person lets the agency know and the agency informs the credit union of the impending absence. Typically, the temp informs the position manager before the agency, but unless specified in that person’s contract with the agency or the agency’s contract with the credit union, the temp only needs to inform the agency. Either way, the credit union’s human resource contact is notified of the impending absence and is offered a fill-in or replacement at the same or reduced rate.

At the end of the contract, if I have need, or just want to, I can then negotiate to hire the temp in some capacity. I notify the agency of my intent and negotiate with the agency, not the temp, on the terms to buy out the contract. The agency officially contacts the temp with my intent to buy out, and the agency and temp work out acceptable terms, meaning the acceptable wage/salary-range. The agency contacts the credit union human resource contact, not the position manager, to negotiate a final number. If the contract employee accepts the number, the agency finalizes the deal, and the contract employee becomes a regular employee. If I have no more need for the person’s skills, the contract is ended.

Period.

— Come back Monday, January 30th, for part two of this three-part series.

For more information on different employee statuses, audits, and fines, speak to a local labor attorney or go on-line to www.dol.gov/wage &  hour.

Disclaimer I am not a licensed attorney or certified accountant. My blogs are based on my own experiences, interviews (where credited), and loads of research.

Copyright © 2009 Diane Faulkner

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Contract employee, independent contractor…there’s a difference? (Part 1 of 3)

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