Contract employee, independent contractor…there’s a difference? (Part 2 of 3)

Independent contractors have clients; temporaries and temp-to-perms do not

An independent contractor (IC) is independent of any other person or company than h/her own, which could be made up of one person, and is bound only by h/her own company’s policies and procedures, not yours. An IC seeks out work, negotiates contracts for work, is free to sub-contract work, sets the time schedule for work to be completed, is responsible for h/her own taxes, benefits, pension, and behavior. The contract between an IC and a company is solely for a result by a particular date, not, unless otherwise negotiated, for a particular person to perform work directed in any form by the client company.

The contract must be able to be terminated at any time and for any reason, or no reason at all, by either party. The IC must also be free to obtain other contracts – and work them – simultaneously. “Full-time” is not a phrase associated with an IC contract. Specified number of hours, hourly wage, salary, all these words imply “employee.”

In the former example, if I contracted an IC to be my credit union manager, I would not be able to do a background check or skills test. I would, of course, ask for and call on references to elicit the same type of information, but in the end, I don’t have the control to be any more thorough. If appropriate, though, I can ask for work samples. I can interview the person to determine fit, and I can also directly negotiate contract length and price. In short, I set my company up as the IC’s client.

The contract is everything

As a potential client, I need to think of everything I need and negotiate those needs into the contract. The key here is to be aware of contract law as applied to ICs under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Unless there is some sort of regulating body that states a particular job must be done by a set procedure, I cannot write any procedure into a contract. If I do, then I create a regular employee under FLSA. Even if there is a particular person under the IC’s employ who has specialized skills necessary to complete the contract, I cannot write in who is to work the project. To do so creates an employee. An IC must be free to subcontract anyone s/he deems qualified to do the work.

Behavioral control

Where companies get into trouble working with an IC is control. Behavioral control of both the IC, but more so with its own employees, especially managers, who may not be schooled in working with a person who represents an entirely different company, but works alongside or for h/her.

The moment a manager has a counseling session with an IC is the moment the IC becomes an employee (EE). The moment a company requires an IC wear a particular outfit to represent the client company and not the contractor is the moment the IC becomes an EE. In the same vein, when a manager requests or demands a particular procedure from an IC solely because the procedure is customary or spelled out in the client company’s procedure manual, the IC becomes an EE.

But what if the IC is doing something wrong?

It is up to the client company to have a provision written into the contract that any of its employees can stop work on a contract project when it is apparent or suspected that an IC’s procedure will cause harm to a person, place, thing, or financially adversely affect the client company. Otherwise, the person who notices the potential harmful procedure must bring the person or matter to the attention to whomever is responsible for administering the contract, usually a top-level manager or a human resource contact, to make the IC stop work. At that time, the sub-contractor is to the IC for counseling or termination, or the client company can discuss the matter with the contracting IC or terminate the contract.

That’s actually the beauty of working with an IC: there doesn’t have to be any counseling, you can just terminate the contract and find someone else to complete the job, and you don’t have to worry about anyone filing unemployment credits against you.

And that’s the bad part of working with an IC: if you have to terminate a contract with a person with a special skill-set and experience level, it can be difficult to replace that person from within the company. You pretty much have to seek out another IC.

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 2 of 3)

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