Written by Marc R Barnes EA
November 16, 2009
When you hire someone to work in your business, that individual will either be an employee or independent contractor for tax purposes. Failure to properly classify the worker can subject you to an IRS audit and possibly interest and penalties for failing to withhold and deposit payroll taxes. Under common-law rules, if you have control over what work is being done and how it will be done, you are generally regarded as an employer and the worker is considered your employee.

The IRS uses three factors to determine the proper worker classification. Behavioral control refers to facts that show whether there is a right to direct or control how the worker does the work.

Behavioral control looks at the type of instruction given, the degree of instruction, an evaluation system, and training.

The second factor is financial control. Financial control refers to facts that show whether or not the business has the right to control the economic aspects of the worker’s job. Financial control factors consist of significant investment, unreimbursed expenses, opportunity for profit or loss, services available to the market, and method of payment. If you provide the tools and supplies to do the job, set the work hours, provide the location where the work is performed, and can hire or fire the worker, chances are this worker is classified as an employee. However, if the worker provides his own tools and supplies, performs services for an agreed price, performs these same services to others, and maintains control over how the work is completed, the worker is more likely an independent contractor.

The third factor is the type of relationship between you and the worker. Under type of relationship, take into consideration any written contracts, employee benefits, permanency of the relationship, and services provided as the key activity of the business. An employee will be hired for a long-term relationship and employee benefits will generally be provided.

You must weigh all of these factors when determining whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor. Some factors may indicate that the worker is an employee, while other factors indicate an independent contractor. The key is to look at the entire relationship you have with the worker, consider the degree or extent of the right to direct or control, and finally document each of the factors used in arriving at a determination.

If you are unsure whether your newly hired worker is an employee or independent contractor, you may file Form SS-8 with the IRS. They will assist you in making a proper determination, thus avoiding mistakes, audits, and additional taxes and penalties.