Worker Classification Update

Labor & Employment Law, Taxation
July 26, 2017

On July 20, 2017, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) issued a reminder for small businesses on the importance of correctly classifying workers as employees or independent contractors. Employers failing to do this correctly may face penalties, including trust fund penalties, from the IRS, which can be assessed not only against the employer but also against officers and directors. Classification is important because an employer must withhold income taxes and pay Social Security, Medicare taxes, and unemployment tax on wages paid to workers who are employees, but independent contractors are instead subject to self-employment tax.

Employers must look at the facts in each situation. The IRS has reminded small businesses to focus on three categories to properly classify workers: (1) behavioral control, (2) financial control, and (3) the relationship of the parties. A worker is properly classified as an employee if the employer exercises significant behavioral and financial control over the worker such as controlling the manner of work by giving the worker instructions or training and providing the worker with the tools necessary to complete the work. Also, if the employer and the worker have a permanent working relationship and the employer provides the worker with benefits such as a pension plan or vacation pay, the worker properly would be classified as an employee. On the other hand, a worker should be treated as an independent contractor if the worker has autonomy on deciding the manner of work and amount of hours to work, works for multiple employers, or does not retain a permanent relationship with the employer. These factors all reflect a 20-factor test established by the IRS in Revenue Ruling 87-41.2

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