By Shauna Itri
In Part I of this blog series, we discussed which taxes employers must withhold from employees, as well as the Internal Revenue Code’s definition of “employee.” In this blog post, we will review the factors that determine whether an individual is an employee or independent contractor and discuss the consequences employers face if they misclassify these individuals.
Internal Revenue Service “Employee” Test
As an aid to determining whether an individual is an employee under the common law rules, the Internal Revenue Service has identified twenty factors or elements that indicate whether sufficient control is present to establish an employer-employee relationship. See Rev. Rul. 87-41, 1987-1 C.B. 296, 298-299. The Third Circuit has applied these factors in determining whether an employee-employer relationship exists for tax purposes. Greco v. United States, 380 F. Supp. 2d 598, 620 (M.D. Pa. 2005). The twenty factors have been developed based on an examination of cases and rulings considering whether an individual is an employee. The degree of importance of each factor varies depending on the occupation and the factual context in which the services are performed. The twenty factors are designed only as guides for determining whether an individual is an employee; special scrutiny is required in applying the twenty factors to assure that formalistic aspects of an arrangement designed to achieve a particular status do not obscure the substance of the arrangement (that is, whether the person or persons for whom the services are performed exercise sufficient control over the individual for the individual to be classified as an employee). The twenty factors are described below:
Instructions. A worker who is required to comply with other persons’ instructions about when, where, and how he or she is to work is ordinarily an employee. This control factor is present if the person or persons for whom the services are performed have the right to require compliance with instructions. See, for example, Rev. Rul. 68-598, 1968-2 C.B. 464, and Rev. Rul. 66-381, 1966-2 C.B. 449.
Training. Training a worker by requiring an experienced employee to work with the worker, by corresponding with the worker, by requiring the worker to attend meetings, or by using other methods, indicates that the person or persons for whom the services are performed want the services performed in a particular method or manner. See Rev. Rul. 70-630, 1970-2 C.B. 229.
Integration. Integration of the worker’s services into the business operations generally shows that the worker is subject to direction and control. When the success or continuation of a business depends to an appreciable degree upon the performance of certain services, the workers who perform those services must necessarily be subject to a certain amount of control by the owner of the business. See United States v. Silk, 331 U.S. 704, 91 L. Ed. 1757, 67 S. Ct. 1463, 1947-2 C.B. 167 (1947), 1947-2 C.B. 167.
Services Rendered Personally. If the services must be rendered personally, presumably the person or persons for whom the services are performed are interested in the methods used to accomplish the work as well as in the results. See Rev. Rul. 55-695, 1955-2 C.B. 410.
Hiring, Supervising, and Paying Assistants. If the person or persons for whom the services are performed hire, supervise, and pay assistants, that factor generally shows control over the workers on the job. However, if one worker hires, supervises, and pays the other assistants pursuant to a contract under which the worker agrees to provide materials and labor and under which the worker is responsible only for the attainment of a result, this factor indicates an independent contractor status. Compare Rev. Rul. 63-115, 1963-1 C.B. 178, with Rev. Rul. 55-593, 1955-2 C.B. 610.
Continuing Relationship. A continuing relationship between the worker and the person or persons for whom the services are performed indicates that an employer-employee relationship exists. A continuing relationship may exist where work is performed at frequently recurring although irregular intervals. See United States v. Silk, 331 U.S. 704 (1947).
Set Hours of Work. The establishment of set hours of work by the person or persons for whom the services are performed is a factor indicating control. See Rev. Rul. 73-591, 1973-2 C.B. 337.
Full Time Required. If the worker must devote substantially full time to the business of the person or persons for whom the services are performed, such person or persons have control over the amount of time the worker spends working and impliedly restrict the worker from doing other gainful work. An independent contractor, on the other hand, is free to work when and for whom he or she chooses. See Rev. Rul. 56-694, 1956-2 C.B. 694.
Doing Work on Employer’s Premises. If the work is performed on the premises of the person or persons for whom the services are performed, that factor suggests control over the worker, especially if the work could be done elsewhere. Rev. Rul. 56-660, 1956-2 C.B. 693. Work done off the premises of the person or persons receiving the services, such as at the office of the worker, indicates some freedom from control. However, this fact by itself does not mean that the worker is not an employee. The importance of this factor depends on the nature of the service involved and the extent to which an employer generally would require that employees perform such services on the employer’s premises. Control over the place of work is indicated when the person or persons for whom the services are performed have the right to compel the worker to travel a designated route, to canvass a territory within a certain time, or to work at specific places as required. See Rev. Rul. 56-694.
Order or Sequence Set. If a worker must perform services in the order or sequence set by the person or persons for whom the services are performed, that factor shows that the worker is not free to follow the worker’s own pattern of work but must follow the established routines and schedules of the person or persons for whom the services are performed. Often, because of the nature of an occupation, the person or persons for whom the services are performed do not set the order of the services or set the order infrequently. It is sufficient to show control, however, if such person or persons retain the right to do so. See Rev. Rul. 56-694.
Oral or Written Reports. A requirement that the worker submit regular or written reports to the person or persons for whom the services are performed indicates a degree of control. See Rev. Rul. 70-309, 1970-1 C.B. 199, and Rev. Rul. 68-248, 1968-1 C.B. 431.
Payment by Hour, Week, Month. Payment by the hour, week, or month generally points to an employer-employee relationship, provided that this method of payment is not just a convenient way of paying a lump sum agreed upon as the cost of a job. Payment made by the job or on a straight commission generally indicates that the worker is an independent contractor. See Rev. Rul. 74-389, 1974-2 C.B. 330.
Payment of Business and/or Traveling Expenses. If the person or persons for whom the services are performed ordinarily pay the worker’s business and/or traveling expenses, the worker is ordinarily an employee. An employer, to be able to control expenses, generally retains the right to regulate and direct the worker’s business activities. See Rev. Rul. 55-144, 1955-1 C.B. 483.
Furnishing of Tools and Materials. The fact that the person or persons for whom the services are performed furnish significant tools, materials, and other equipment tends to show the existence of an employer-employee relationship. See Rev. Rul. 71-524, 1971-2 C.B. 346.
Significant Investment. If the worker invests in facilities that are used by the worker in performing services and are not typically maintained by employees (such as the maintenance of an office rented at fair value from an unrelated party), that factor tends to indicate that the worker is an independent contractor. On the other hand, lack of investment in facilities indicates dependence on the person or persons for whom the services are performed for such facilities and, accordingly, the existence of an employer-employee relationship. See Rev. Rul. 71-524. Special scrutiny is required with respect to certain types of facilities, such as home offices.
Realization of Profit or Loss. A worker who can realize a profit or suffer a loss as a result of the worker’s services (in addition to the profit or loss ordinarily realized by employees) is generally an independent contractor, but the worker who cannot is an employee. See Rev. Rul. 70-309. For example, if the worker is subject to a real risk of economic loss due to significant investments or a bona fide liability for expenses, such as salary payments to unrelated employees, that factor indicates that the worker is an independent contractor. The risk that a worker will not receive payment for his or her services, however, is common to both independent contractors and employees and thus does not constitute a sufficient economic risk to support treatment as an independent contractor.
Working for More Than One Firm at a Time. If a worker performs more than de minimis services for a multiple of unrelated persons or firms at the same time, that factor generally indicates that the worker is an independent contractor. See Rev. Rul. 70-572, 1970-2 C.B. 221. However, a worker who performs services for more than one person may be an employee of each of the persons, especially where such persons are part of the same service arrangement.
Making Service Available to General Public. The fact that a worker makes his or her services available to the general public on a regular and consistent basis indicates an independent contractor relationship. See Rev. Rul. 56-660.
Right to Discharge. The right to discharge a worker is a factor indicating that the worker is an employee and the person possessing the right is an employer. An employer exercises control through the threat of dismissal, which causes the worker to obey the employer’s instructions. An independent contractor, on the other hand, cannot be fired so long as the independent contractor produces a result that meets the contract specifications. Rev. Rul. 75-41, 1975-1 C.B. 323.
Right to Terminate. If the worker has the right to end his or her relationship with the person for whom the services are performed at any time he or she wishes without incurring liability, that factor indicates an employer-employee relationship. See Rev. Rul. 70-309.
Consequences of Misclassifying Workers Under the Internal Revenue Code
The principal consequence of the reclassification of workers is to create, in the IRS’s determination, an obligation on the tax payer to have paid taxes on the workers’ wages under FUTA, 26 U.S.C. §§ 3301-3311, and FICA, 26 U.S.C. §§ 3101-3128; see 26 U.S.C. §§ 3301 (imposing FUTA tax), § 3111 (imposing FICA tax); to have withheld and remitted, or have paid, the workers’ FICA taxes, see 26 U.S.C. § 3102; and to have withheld and remitted specified amounts of the workers’ anticipated federal income taxes, see 26 U.S.C. § 3402.
 Section 530 of the Revenue Act of 1978 is a safe harbor provision that prevents the IRS from retroactively reclassifying “independent contractors” as employees and subjecting the principal to federal employment taxes, penalties and interest for such misclassification. In order for an employer to qualify for section 530 relief, it must have: (1) Consistently treated the workers (and similarly situated workers) as independent contractors; (2) Complied with the Form 1099 reporting requirements with respect to the compensation paid the workers for the tax years at issue; and (3) Had a reasonable basis for treating the workers as independent contractors. There is no explicit definition of what constitutes a “reasonable basis” for purposes of section 530. There are four categories of authority that may be relied upon as a reasonable basis: (1) federal judicial precedents and administrative rulings; (2) a prior audit of the taxpayer; (3) industry custom; and (4) a catch-all “other” reasonable bases, such as reliance upon advice from an accountant or attorney.
Section 530 does not apply here because MJTP and the Josephs did not have a “reasonable basis” for treating workers as independent contractors, as there were no federal judicial precedents and administrative rulings; prior audits, industry customer any other reasonable bases.