A major shift is underway in the job market—away from full-time employees and toward contract workers. Gartner reports that 32% of companies are moving this way to save costs, and a McKinsey survey found that 90% of respondents see a competitive advantage in adding contractors or freelancers into their company’s employment mix.
Accordingly, many employers are looking to establish independent contractor relationships with some or all of their workers. But while this may sound straightforward, executives and HR professionals should be aware that there are specific rules that govern how you can categorize your employees. Simply hiring someone part-time or having them fill out a W-9 instead of a W-4 doesn’t make them an independent contractor.
The main principle that defines whether a worker is an employee or a contractor is who has control over how the work gets done—the worker or the employer. Let’s examine this in a little more detail.
What makes an employee?
According to the IRS, “anyone who performs services for you is your employee if you can control what will be done and how it will be done.”
The key word in this sentence is “can.” Even if you don’t have a habit of telling your workers precisely how, where, and when to do things, the fact that you have the right to do so under your agreement with your employees is the key.
What makes an independent contractor?
In the case of an independent contractor, on the other hand, the employer “has the right to control or direct only the result of the work and not what will be done and how it will be done,” says the IRS.
Accordingly, independent contractors, also called contingent workers, are usually hired for discreet deliverables or projects instead of on an ongoing, undefined basis.