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Independent Contractor (Self-Employed) or Employee?

November 28, 2017


 It is essential that business owners correctly determine whether the individuals providing services are employees or independent contractors.


Basically, you must withhold income taxes, withhold and pay Social Security and Medicare taxes, and pay unemployment tax on wages paid to an employee. You do not generally have to withhold or pay any taxes on payments to independent contractors.


Before you can determine how to treat payments you make for services, you must first know the business relationship that exists between you and the person performing the services. The person performing the services may be:



Common Law Rules


Facts providing evidence of the degree of control and independence fall into three categories:


  1. Behavioral: Does the company control or have the right to control what the worker does and how the worker does his or her job?

  2. Financial: Are the business aspects of the worker’s job controlled by the payer? (these include things like how worker is paid, whether expenses are reimbursed, who provides tools/supplies, etc.)

  3. Type of Relationship: Are there written contracts or employee type benefits (i.e. pension plan, insurance, vacation pay, etc.)? Will the relationship continue and is the work performed a key aspect of the business?


Businesses must weigh all these factors as determining if a worker is an employee or independent contractor. Some factors may indicate that the worker is an employee, while others show that the worker is an independent contractor. The keys are to look at the entire relationship, consider the degree or extent of the right to direct and control, and finally, to document each of the factors used in coming up with the determination.


Form SS-8


If, after reviewing the three categories of evidence, it is still unclear whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor, Form SS-8, Determination of Worker Status for Purposes of Federal Employment Taxes and Income Tax Withholding (PDF) can be filed with the IRS. The form may be filed by either the business or the worker. The IRS will review the facts and circumstances and officially determine the worker’s status.


Be aware that it can take at least six months to get a determination, but a business continually hiring the same types of workers to perform particular services may want to consider filing the Form SS-8 (PDF).

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