Employer misclassification of workers as independent contractors is a large and growing problem. Employers trying to keep their costs down may inadvertently or deliberately misclassify workers who should be classified as employees. They escape employment taxes, unemployment and workers’ compensation insurance costs, and paying overtime rates required by law for employees. They also cheat workers and gain an unfair advantage over their law-abiding competitors.
Federal and state authorities have begun to crack down. The U.S. Department of Labor won $79 million in settlements for 109,000 workers in 2014 alone. The employers caught breaking the rules come in all sizes and from many industries. To name a few examples:
– In 2013, a federal judge ordered a large provider of information services to pay $1.3 million to nearly 15,000 current and former employees. The employees had worked from home, answering text messages from customers. The company paid them a set rate for each message responded to, without regard to the number of hours they worked. The Labor Department determined that the company had misclassified the workers as independent contractors. Since they were actually employees, they were entitled to the minimum wage. The department calculated that their per-hour rate was below that. The judge’s order raised their compensation up to the minimum.
– Four related New York City plumbing and heating contractors paid a $1.4 million settlement in 2015 for, among other things, misclassifying 25 workers as independent contractors. The employers paid them a weekly wage that did not include the required time-and-a-half rate for hours worked beyond 40.
– A Kentucky-based cable, telephone and Internet installation company was found in 2013 to have misclassified 77 employees. The “independent contractors” performed the same work as others who were classified as employees. All workers were paid based on the pieces of equipment they installed, rather than the number of hours worked. Consequently, none of them received overtime pay. The company paid $1.075 million in back wages and damages to 200 employees.
– A Chicago home cleaning service classified 55 maids as independent contractors. This despite the fact that it forced the maids to sign non-compete agreements and forbid them to clean homes that were not assigned by the company. If the maids exceeded time limits for cleaning houses, they were threatened with disciplinary actions and having their pay docked. The company tried to skirt the overtime law by paying them a flat rate per house cleaned, regardless of how long the job took, and did not pay them for travel time. A federal judge ordered the company to pay the workers $184,505 in back wages and damages.
– A $4.5 million arbitration award to 16 misclassified limousine drivers forced a California car service into bankruptcy in 2012.
These companies suffered severe consequences for breaking the law. Any business that is unsure how to properly classify workers should check with federal and state labor regulators, the IRS and state tax authorities, or labor and tax attorneys. The short-term cost advantages from misclassifying workers are not worth the penalties that come with getting caught.
Get a FREE Quote