Independent Contractors: What’s the Difference between an Independent Contractor and an Employee?

From the Law Office of Susan K. Fuller, PLLC — “Many small business owners would like to know when they can hire an “Independent Contractor” vs. an “Employee.” This article is a modest effort to help clear things up a bit.

What IS an “Independent Contractor”?

First and foremost, and Independent Contractor is a business just like any other in Washington. That means the contractor must have, at minimum: (a) a Uniform Business Identifier (UBI) number, (b) a WA state business license (c) possibly also a business license in the city or town where it conducts business, and; (d) a special license for the type of work being done if a license is required for that trade.

The UBI number establishes an account at the state Department of Revenue – as a business, the Contractor pays Business and Occupation (B & O) taxes.

Let’s say Jane Doe considers herself an independent contractor. She’s an electrician, and a sole proprietor. She advertises her business, makes bids on jobs, is her own boss and sets her own schedule. She owns her own tools. She is a duly trained and licensed electrician. She has a UBI number and a state business license. Jane works in Seattle, so she also needs a Seattle Business license. Since her business is in King County, she should also be registered with a Personal Property account with the King County Assessor’s Office and may (or may not) owe personal property tax on business equipment. Jane’s business is subject to state B & O taxes on gross income. For federal income tax purposes, she may owe Self Employment (SE) tax (similar to tax withheld from a paycheck).

Now let’s look at John Doe. John also considers himself an independent contractor. He’s not an electrician, he is a yoga instructor in Seattle. His friend Mary runs a yoga studio, and John teaches classes there 3 days per week. Mary sets his schedule, and decides which classes he should teach. He does not advertise his services; instead, he relies instead on Mary’s marketing of the studio. He does not have a business license or a UBI number. Mary pays him cash. Both John and Mary are happy with this arrangement.

Is John really an independent contractor? No. Does it really matter, since he’s happy being called an independent contractor? Yes, it matters. If the Department of Labor & Industries (or the IRS) determines that John is not actually an independent contractor, that means he is Mary’s employee, and Mary (or her company), will be liable for paying John’s employment taxes that should have been withheld, will be liable for paying into the state worker’s compensation fund for employee John, and may owe other taxes and fees. Note: for Labor & Industries, a worker is presumed to be an employee unless it can be proven otherwise. This puts the burden on the business owner to show that the worker is listed and paid correctly……”

Read the full story at Independent Contractors: What’s the Difference between an Independent Contractor and an Employee?

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