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The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) remains focused on an issue that doesn’t seem to be going away: the misclassification of workers as independent contractors rather than employees. Recently, the IRS issued still another fact sheet “reminding” employers about the importance of correctly classifying workers for purposes of federal employment taxes. Generally, employers must withhold income taxes, withhold and pay social security and Medicare taxes, and pay unemployment tax on wages paid to employees. They are lifted of these obligations entirely for independent contractors, with usually the only IRS-related responsibility being information reporting on amounts of $600 or more paid to a contractor.
Whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor depends on a number of considerations that fall into three categories:
Within these categories, the IRS has identified 20 factors that can be used to determine whether an individual is an independent contractor or effectively an “employee.”
The determination of independent contractor versus employee status is based on all of the facts and circumstances surrounding the relationship. None of the identified factors is determinative. In addition, not all factors are present in all employee or independent contractor relationships. Frequently, the relationship of a worker is clear cut using these factors; but sometimes a worker can fall into a gray area.
An employer who is unsure of how to classify its workers can file a Form SS-8, Determination of Worker Status for Purposes of Federal Employment Taxes and Income Tax Withholding. There is no fee for requesting a worker classification determination. Because worker classification has become such a “hot” audit trigger, many employers opt for the Form SS-8 route, particularly because penalties on top of back employment taxes can result from a classification misstep.
After emphasizing in its latest Fact Sheet that employee misclassification as independent contractors exposes the employer to employment tax liability, the IRS also highlighted two ways to escape or ameliorate liability, even for an after-the-fact classification: “Section 530 relief” and relief under the Voluntary Classification Settlement Program.
A reasonable basis for classification for purposes of Section 530 relief generally includes an employer’s treatment of the individual based on any of the following:
Under the VCSP, an employer may reclassify some or all of their workers. Once reclassified, all workers in the same class must be treated as employees for employment tax purposes.
The IRS also makes it clear in its latest Fact Sheet on employee misclassification that action on its part may take place not only based on an employer-based initiative; workers can also have indirect input on whether an audit will take place. “Workers who believe an employer improperly classified them as independent contractors may use Form 8919, Uncollected Social Security and Medicare Tax on Wages, to figure and report the employee’s share of uncollected social security and Medicare taxes,” the IRS Fact Sheet concludes.
If you have any concerns surrounding possible worker misclassification within your business, contact Doeren Mayhew’s Tax Group today.
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