Contractor Compliance in the U.S.: 2024 Guide

Contractor Compliance

Independent Contractor Definition 

An independent contractor is an individual or business that provides goods or services to another entity under terms specified in a contract or within a verbal agreement, where the contractor determines their own work schedule and is responsible for taxes and insurance payments. 

In the United States, there are strict tests to determine whether an individual is a contractor or employee, a process known as employee classification. Misclassification, or defining an employee as a contractor by mistake, can raise significant legal and financial risks for organizations, discussed further below.

There are two primary types of contractors: incorporated contractors, who provide services as a corporation, and unincorporated contractors, also known as 1099 employees.

This article is also related to independent contractor vs employee test.

This article is also related to independent contractor misclassification.

This article is also related to employee classification examples.

This article is also related to employee misclassification penalties.

This article is also related to c compliance.

What Is Independent Contractor Compliance? 

Independent contractor compliance refers to adhering to laws and regulations governing the engagement of independent contractors. It ensures that businesses classify and manage contractors correctly to avoid legal repercussions and penalties. Proper compliance involves meeting tax, labor, and employment rules, and distinguishing contractors from regular employees based on the nature of their work and relationship with the employer.

Companies need a structured compliance system to reduce risks such as misclassification, which can lead to fines and back tax liability. Compliance helps in maintaining a clear boundary between contractors and employees, ensuring that benefits, compensation, and rights are appropriately allocated according to their classification.

Independent Contractor Compliance Regulations and Laws in the U.S. 

Here is a brief overview of laws that might impact organizations hiring contractors in the United States.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Guidelines

The IRS establishes specific guidelines to determine worker status under federal tax laws. These guidelines focus on behavioral control, financial control, and the relationship between the parties. The degree to which the company controls the work process and the worker’s financial aspects will influence their classification as an independent contractor or employee. Adhering to these guidelines is essential to avoid misclassification and the associated penalties.

For businesses, understanding and implementing IRS rules on worker classification is critical. Regular audits and documentation are advised to substantiate classifications and defend against possible disputes. The IRS also offers a Voluntary Classification Settlement Program (VCSP) which allows employers to reclassify their workers with reduced penalties.

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

The FLSA, administered by the Department of Labor (DOL) provides the framework for wage and hour law for employees in the private sector and in federal, state, and local governments. However, it does not directly apply to independent contractors. The distinction lies in the degree of control and independence. Workers who are economically dependent on the business are considered employees under the FLSA and not independent contractors.

Businesses must evaluate job roles against the FLSA criteria to ensure correct classification. This compliance is crucial in evading violations that can lead to unpaid wages, overtime claims, and financial penalties. In January, 2024, the DOL released the “Final Rule” with new guidelines on how contractors should be classified.

Affordable Care Act (ACA)

The ACA imposes specific obligations on employers regarding healthcare coverage. These laws generally apply to employees, not independent contractors. Therefore, correct classification is consequential in determining eligibility for health insurance benefits. Misclassification can lead to penalties under the ACA’s employer mandate which requires coverage provision to eligible employees.

Compliance with ACA standards is crucial for businesses to avoid fines and ensure all employees receive the benefits they legally deserve. Employers should regularly review their workforce classifications in light of ACA guidelines for employers, and possibly adjust their healthcare coverage provisions and benefits strategy accordingly.

California AB5 Act and the ABC Test

The California AB5 Act, also known as Assembly Bill 5, was passed to regulate the classification of workers as either employees or independent contractors. This legislation introduced the “ABC test” to determine a worker’s status, enforcing stricter criteria for classifying workers as independent contractors. 

Under this Act, a worker is considered an employee unless the hiring entity can prove that three conditions are met: (A) the worker is free from the direction and control of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work, (B) the worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business, and (C) the worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business.

The AB5 Act aims to extend employee rights to more workers, ensuring access to benefits like minimum wage, workers’ compensation, and unemployment insurance. However, it also caused significant adjustments in industries reliant on freelance and contract labor, such as technology, transportation, and creative services. Businesses operating in California must meticulously analyze their contractor relationships and possibly reclassify some contractors as employees to comply with this law. Learn more in this employee classification FAQ by the California state government.

What Is Employee Misclassification? 

Employee misclassification occurs when a worker who should be considered an employee under the law is incorrectly classified as an independent contractor. This misclassification can lead to numerous issues, both for the worker and the employer. Workers misclassified as independent contractors lose access to benefits and protections like health insurance, workers’ compensation, and unemployment insurance. They may also miss out on the minimum wage and overtime pay.

For employers, the misclassification can result in legal consequences, including penalties, back taxes, and back pay for benefits. Misclassification also skews competition between companies, as those not providing proper benefits may have lower operational costs.

Risks of Employee Misclassification

Legal and Financial Penalties

Employers face significant legal and financial repercussions for misclassifying employees as independent contractors. The penalties can vary significantly based on jurisdiction, the severity of the misclassification, and the number of affected workers. 

Common penalties include the payment of back taxes, both federal and state, including Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment taxes that were not initially withheld. Additionally, employers may be required to pay fines and interest on these taxes.

Overtime and Minimum Wage Violations

When employees are misclassified as independent contractors, they may not receive overtime pay and minimum wages as mandated by law. This results in violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which requires employers to pay at least the federal minimum wage and overtime at one and a half times the regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek. Correcting these violations often involves paying the back wages owed to affected workers, plus additional damages.

Labor Law Violations

Misclassification can lead to violations of various labor laws that protect employee rights beyond wage and hour provisions. These include safety and health regulations, anti-discrimination laws, and the right to unionize. Employers found in violation may face audits and legal actions initiated by the Department of Labor or equivalent state agencies, which can include orders for compliance, fines, and sometimes even criminal charges depending on the severity of the infraction.

Audits and Legal Challenges

Frequent audits by tax authorities and labor departments are common repercussions of employee misclassification. These audits can be triggered by discrepancies in tax filings or complaints by workers. Additionally, misclassified employees can initiate legal challenges, leading to costly litigation. These legal challenges can force a company to reclassify its workers, pay legal fees, and settle claims for unpaid wages and benefits.

Independent Contractor Compliance Checklist 

1. Determine Classification Criteria

Establishing clear criteria for classifying workers is foundational to independent contractor compliance. Businesses should develop a robust classification framework based on IRS, DOL, and state-specific guidelines. This framework helps in assessing each work relationship and assigning correct statuses, mitigating risks associated with misclassification.

In California, ensure contractors pass the ABC test:

To pass the ABC test, a company must meet three criteria: 

  1. The worker is free from the company’s control or direction in the performance of their work. 
  2. The work occurs outside the usual course of the company’s business and off the site of the business. 
  3. The worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, profession, or business of the same nature as that involved in the work performed. 

Failure to meet any of these criteria typically means the worker must be classified as an employee, not an independent contractor.

2. Written Agreements

Having formal written agreements with independent contractors is vital. These agreements should outline the scope of work, payment terms, and expectations clearly distinguishing them from employees. Agreements serve as a legal foundation confirming the independent nature of the relationship and help resolve disputes.

Regular updates to these agreements in compliance with legal changes are necessary. Legal oversight during the drafting and revision of contractor agreements can offer additional compliance assurance.

3. Consistent Treatment

Consistently treating workers according to their classification is essential for maintaining compliance. Independent contractors should not receive employee benefits or be subjected to the same level of control as employees. This distinction prevents blurring lines that could lead to misclassification claims.

Operational policies should reflect this treatment consistency, and training for management involved in supervising contractors can reinforce these standards. Regular audits to check adherence to these practices can prevent compliance drift and maintain integrity in contractor relations.

4. Audit and Review Practices

Regular audits and reviews are crucial for maintaining independent contractor compliance. Businesses should conduct periodic internal audits to ensure that all workers are classified correctly according to the current legal standards. This process typically includes reviewing the terms of engagement, analyzing the level of control over the work, and examining the financial independence of the contractors.

It is advisable to engage external legal experts or compliance specialists to perform these audits. This helps in obtaining an unbiased evaluation and identifying any potential issues that might not be evident to internal teams. Implementing the recommendations from these audits promptly is key to mitigating risks associated with non-compliance.

5. Training and Education

Providing training and education on independent contractor compliance to all relevant employees, especially those involved in hiring and managing contractors, is essential. Training sessions should cover key legal principles, the differences between employees and contractors, and the importance of adhering to compliance practices.

These educational programs should be updated regularly to reflect any changes in laws and regulations. Additionally, creating easy-to-access resources such as compliance manuals or online courses can help ensure that all staff members are aware of the procedures and the importance of compliance.

6. Use Contractor Management Platforms

To streamline the process of managing independent contractors and ensuring compliance, businesses should consider using contractor management platforms. These tools help in automating the classification process, tracking payments and hours worked, and maintaining clear records for audits.

Contractor management solutions, also known as freelancer management platforms, typically include features like candidate sourcing, digital contract generation, payment management, compliance checks, and reporting tools that assist in monitoring and managing contractor relationships effectively.

Conquer Contractor Management & Compliance with Fiverr Enterprise 

Fiverr Enterprise is a freelancer management system (FMS) that streamlines contractor management and ensures compliance for your entire freelance workforce.

By providing a centralized hub for sourcing, hiring, onboarding, paying and managing contractors, Fiverr Enterprise simplifies the complex process of workforce management. With Fiverr Enterprise, businesses and companies can confidently scale their workforce while maintaining control and compliance every step of the way.

We automate and customize the legal and tax compliance process to your specific business needs, so your teams aren’t weighed down by paperwork. Tax forms, background checks, NDAs, etc.—we take care of it all.

From onboarding to offboarding, we give you peace of mind that every step of your freelance lifecycle is in order. If freelancers are no longer compliant for your business, they’re no longer working for you. 

We automatically monitor your relationships with your freelancers, including the validity of legal documents, and will alert you when risk arises, so you can take action and mitigate the risk of worker misclassification.