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How To Classify An Employee VS Independent Contractors

How To Classify An Employee VS Independent Contractors

In the US tax system, distinguishing between employees and independent contractors is essential because it determines how people are classified for tax purposes. In addition to outlining the implications of each classification, this article aims to provide an insight into the criteria that classifies an individual as an independent contractor or as an employee.

Employee VS Independent Contractors: Definition and Importance

An independent contractor can be defined as a person who works for themselves and provides services to clients or customers, while an employee is an individual that works for an employer under the direction of said employer. Considering that it determines the tax liabilities and benefits for both the employee and the employer, correctly classifying employees is crucial.

Payroll taxes must be paid by employers—they are also liable for paying Medicare and Social Security taxes—as well as offering benefits and withholding income taxes from wages. On the other hand, independent contractors do not receive employee benefits and are in charge of covering their own self-employment taxes.

Key Factors for Determination

To distinguish between employees and independent contractors, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) considers a number of factors. These variables are centered on how much autonomy and control the employee has over how they carry out their responsibilities. The following are taken into account even though no one factor is determinant:

Type of relationship

It is imperative to assess the nature of the working relationship. Is a written agreement in place? Does the employee have access to benefits like paid time off, retirement plans, or health insurance? Benefits resembling those of an employee imply a working relationship.

Financial Control

Does the employee have the potential to make a profit or lose money, or are their business expenses reimbursed? While employees are typically reimbursed for expenses, independent contractors frequently have the option to make a profit or a loss based on their own business decisions.

Behavioral Control

Does the employer have any influence over how the employee behaves or carries out their duties? The likelihood that a worker is an employee increases with the amount of control the employer exercises, such as setting specific work hours or giving thorough instructions.

IRS Form SS-8 and Consequences of Misclassification

To assist in determining worker classification, the IRS provides Form SS-8, "Determination of Worker Status for Purposes of Federal Employment Taxes and Income Tax Withholding." This form allows either the employer or the worker to request an official determination from the IRS regarding the worker's status.

Employers may suffer serious repercussions if they improperly classify employees. An employer may be held liable for unpaid payroll taxes, penalties, and interest if they mistakenly classify a worker as an independent contractor. Additionally, misclassified workers may experience negative effects like losing access to specific employee benefits or becoming liable for self-employment taxes they weren't expecting.

Independent contractors should always act and operate as a genuine independent business entity. This can be done by maintaining separate business records such as financial statements, contracts, and invoices. Additionally, a written agreement or contract should be in place clearly outlining the terms of agreement (independence of the contractor, payment terms, and project scope).


The US tax system requires proper classification between employees and independent contractors in order to ensure proper tax compliance and to establish the duties and benefits related to each classification. Employers and employees can navigate the classification process more accurately by taking into account elements like behavioral control, financial control, and the nature of the working relationship. To avoid misclassification and its potential repercussions, employers should be diligent in determining worker status and, when in doubt, can seek advice from the IRS or consult with tax experts.