Many companies use independent contractors to slash payroll taxes and the high cost of fringe benefits. But using outside workers can result in other problems. It's no secret that Uncle Sam wages battle with businesses over freelancers. And the situation may be getting worse.
In recent years, many workers have turned to a career of consulting and "gig" work. The IRS is on the lookout for companies that use these workers improperly — especially those that lay off workers and then hire them back as independent contractors to cut labor costs.
Tactics like that don't go over well at the tax agency. If an IRS auditor examines a consultant or independent contractor, it may then also scrutinize the companies that hire them.
If your independent contractors are legitimately independent, there's no problem. But if they're employees in disguise, the IRS can "reclassify" them as employees and you could be slapped with hefty bills for back taxes, plus interest and penalties. Audits by state agencies are also common and frequently occur when freelancers apply for unemployment compensation.
Your company's pension plan isn't immune either. As independent contractors, workers are generally excluded from retirement plan contributions. If the IRS reclassifies the workers, your company may be penalized and your qualified plan might be disqualified.
To stay on the safe side, consult with your tax advisor and make sure freelancers sign contracts that specify factors such as:
Have your regular employees sign contracts, too. By varying the two types of documents, you can make the case that both categories of employees perform different tasks.
Here are four more tips to help safeguard your company:
So what if you do rehire some laid-off employees as independent contractors? It may be difficult — but still possible — to classify them as contractors. But you probably shouldn't let freelancers work in your office and you should give them new titles. For example, your retained employees might be staff representatives while your new workers are outside service agents.
There's nothing illegal about rehiring former workers as freelancers. You just have to make sure you structure the deals properly so the IRS doesn't reclassify the workers.
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