Employee or Independent Contractor?


Determining the classification of workers as employees or independent contractors is crucial for business owners, influencing tax responsibilities and reporting obligations. Understanding the distinctions between these categories is essential to avoid potential penalties imposed by the IRS.

Penalties and Interest

When the IRS identifies a worker as an employee rather than an independent contractor, penalties may apply. These penalties encompass failure to withhold and remit income, FICA, and FUTA taxes, along with interest on underpaid amounts. Additionally, non-compliance may lead to penalties for failure to file information returns, and the state may seek workers’ compensation and unemployment compensation premiums.

Independent Contractor

An independent contractor is considered self-employed, responsible for personal tax payments via estimated tax payments. The business issues Form 1099-NEC for payments exceeding $600 in a tax year. Notably, the business is not obligated to withhold income tax or FICA for independent contractors.


Conversely, employees receive Form W-2 for wages paid. Employers are responsible for withholding income tax and FICA, and they may also incur liabilities for FUTA and state employment taxes. Employees may be eligible for fringe benefits like health care.

Factors Determining Worker Status

Three categories of factors contribute to the determination of worker status: Behavioral control, Financial control, and the Type of relationship between the parties.


Providing concrete examples, a worker who decides when and how to perform tasks, supplies their tools, and sets their schedule is likely an independent contractor. In contrast, an employer-employee relationship involves control over tasks, provided tools, and supervision.

Incorrect Treatment

If a worker receives a 1099-NEC instead of a W-2, they have two options. They can either agree with the classification and pay self-employment tax or file Form SS-8 for the IRS to determine the correct status. This decision impacts the employer’s or worker’s tax liabilities accordingly.


Understanding the nuances between employee and independent contractor classifications is imperative for businesses. By navigating these distinctions, employers can avoid penalties and ensure compliance with tax regulations. If you find yourself uncertain or have questions, seeking professional tax advice is recommended for accurate and tailored information.

Need more help understanding employee or independent contractor? Please contact our office and we can help answer all of your questions.

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2 thoughts on “Employee or Independent Contractor?

  1. finalert llc says:

    “Thank you for this insightful article! As a small business owner, navigating the complexities of employee classification can be daunting. Your clear explanation and actionable tips provide much-needed clarity and guidance. Appreciate the valuable resource!”

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