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Classification of Employees under the IRS Guidelines

In our last post, we discussed analysis of the employer/independent contractor relationship through the lens of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). Employers who hire individuals as independent contractors – because it seems less often the case that an independent contractor is errantly classified as an employee – should keep in mind that the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) has its own set of standards for classifying employees for tax purposes. Thus, any analysis of employee classification under the FLSA should be, likewise, scrutinized through the lens of the IRS guidelines, of which there are many.

As a general rule, an individual is an independent contractor if the payer has the right to control or direct only the result of the work, not what will be done and how it will be done: think of relationships with vendors and others who are retained for services but perform work without input from the payer. Whether a worker is an independent contractor or employee depends upon the circumstances of the parties’ relationship, with particular focus upon behavioral, financial, and other relationship-based factors (i.e. Are there written contracts or benefits? Does the relationship have a set term/duration?)

Businesses must evaluate the above factors when analyzing whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor. Many employers find especially challenging the common situation where some factors indicate that an individual is an employee, while other factors indicate that the individual is an independent contractor. Further complicating the issue, IRS guidelines make clear that there is not one factor in particular that unequivocally dictates the outcome of such analysis. Factors that are of great interest in one relationship may have no relevance to other employer/employee or payer/independent contractor relationships.

Fortunately, the IRS’s website provides additional guidance concerning the three largest categories of classification factors. To better determine how to properly classify a worker, consider these three categories – Behavioral Control, Financial Control and Relationship of the Parties.

  • Behavioral Control: A worker is an employee when the business has the right to direct and control the work performed by the worker, even if that right is not exercised. Behavioral control categories are:
    • Type of instructions given, such as when and where to work, what tools to use or where to purchase supplies and services. Receiving instructions in these examples may indicate a worker is an employee.
    • More detailed instructions may indicate that the worker is an employee. Less detailed instructions demonstrate less control, making it more likely that the individual is an independent contractor.
    • Evaluation systems to measure the details of how the work is done suggests that a worker is an employee. However, evaluation systems measuring just the end result point to either an independent contractor or an employee.
    • Training a worker on how to perform a job — or periodic or on-going training about procedures and methods — is viable evidence that the worker is an employee. Independent contractors ordinarily implement their own methods of performing work. (More detail is available here).
  • Financial Control: Does the business have a right to direct or control the financial and business aspects of the worker’s job? Consider:
    • The employer’s (or putative employer) investment in the equipment the worker uses in working for someone else. This can lead to an inference that a worker is an employee.
    • Independent contractors more often incur unreimbursed expenses than employees.
    • If there exists an opportunity for profit or loss, it can be indicative of an independent contractor relationship.
    • Independent contractors are generally free to seek out business opportunities, whereas employees may be restrained in some way from working simultaneously to provide the same services for other clients/employers.
    • An employee is generally guaranteed a regular wage amount for an hourly, weekly, or other period of time even when supplemented by a commission. However, independent contractors are most often paid for the job by a flat fee. (More detail available here)
  • Relationship: The type of relationship depends upon how the worker and business perceive their interaction with one another. This includes:
    • Written contracts can cut both ways in an employee/independent contractor analysis under IRS guidelines. However, the most critical point for any employer to understand is that a contract stating a worker is an employee or an independent contractor is not dispositive on the issue of worker classification. If a relationship appears to be employer/employee driven (more control and direction over areas beyond the results of the work) despite being categorized on paper as an independent contractor relationship, the facts will rule the day.
    • Businesses generally do not grant benefits such as vacation, health insurance, sick pay, pensions, etc., to independent contractors. Therefore, the presence of such benefits militates strongly for a conclusion that an employer/employee relationship exists.
    • The longevity of the relationship is also a crucial factor. A relationship that is somehow limited in duration may contribute to a conclusion that a worker is an independent contractor. However, if the relationship’s temporal scope is not defined, it is more likely suggestive of an employer/employee relationship. Other facts that suggest the intent of the parties in the initial phases of the relationship may influence analysis of this factor.
    • If the worker performs services that are vital to the regular function of the business or a critical component of its work, this factor may lead to a conclusion that a worker is an employee of the business. (More detail available here).

The keys are to look at the entire relationship, consider the degree or extent of the right to direct and control, and finally, to document each of the factors used in coming up with the determination.

In addition, the IRS also applies a 20-factor-test that can be utilized to aid in the differentiation of employees from independent contractors. The factors include:

  1. the employer’s right to require the worker’s compliance with instructions;
  2. the employer’s training requirements;
  3. the integration of the worker’s services into the employer’s business;
  4. the worker’s personal rendering of services;
  5. the employer’s hiring, supervision, and payment of assistants;
  6. a continuing relationship between the employer and the worker;
  7. the employer’s setting of hours;
  8. the employer’s requirement of full-time service;
  9. performance of work on the employer’s premises;
  10. the worker’s performance of services in a sequence set by the employer;
  11. the employer’s requirement that the worker submit oral or written reports;
  12. payments on an hourly, weekly, or monthly basis;
  13. the employer’s payment of business or travel expenses;
  14. the employer’s furnishing of materials or tools;
  15. lack of significant investment in the facilities by the worker;
  16. lack of realization of loss or profit by the worker;
  17. lack of work for multiple firms by the worker;
  18. lack of availability of the worker’s services to the general public;
  19. the employer’s right to discharge the worker; and
  20. the worker’s right to terminate her or his services.

Consequences of Treating an Employee as an Independent Contractor

Misclassification of employees can have serious consequences. If you classify an employee as an independent contractor and you have no reasonable basis for doing so, you may be held liable for employment taxes for that worker, as applicable relief provisions, generally, do not apply to “unreasonable” misclassification.

With the assistance of legal counsel and their tax or accounting professionals, employers should, periodically, examine employees’ classifications and duties to determine whether employees and independent contractors are properly classified. If you have questions about the content of this article or wish to discuss any employment law issue, please contact Laura Musick or any of our employment lawyers.

GreeneHurlocker Welcomes Business and Employment Attorney Laura Kight Musick

Laura Kight Musick, a business and labor and employment attorney, has joined the business, corporate, and regulatory law practice as Counsel at our firm, Eric Hurlocker announced today.

“Laura brings a well-developed set of skills in commercial and employment law which our clients increasingly need as their businesses grow and become more complex,” Hurlocker said. “Additionally, her significant litigation experience dovetails nicely with our firm’s growing regional regulatory practice,” he explained.

Laura practiced in Illinois and Virginia in her prior firms, and has counseled clients in employment matters, including hiring, severance and transition agreements, employment policies, and risk management and avoidance. In addition, she advised her business clients regularly about contracts, financing agreements, and corporate formation and governance.

“I’m delighted to be joining GreeneHurlocker and offering our clients the benefit of my employment law background while advising them as they grow and expand their businesses,” she says.

Laura graduated summa cum laude from the Honors Program at Murray State University in Kentucky, receiving a dual degree in English Literature and Philosophy. She earned her J.D. at the Robert H. McKinney School of Law, Indiana University, and was the inaugural recipient of the Baker and Daniels Public Interest Law Fellowship in 2008.

GreeneHurlocker at The Advanced Energy Conference

Advanced Energy signageWe are pretty excited to attend and be a sponsor of the Advanced Energy Now – East conference today in Richmond. Along with hearing about recent developments in the energy space, we’re catching up with our clients and colleagues in the renewable and advanced energy industry at the Richmond Convention Center downtown.

GreeneHurlocker energy lawyers work hard at staying informed and educated on the best practices and current opportunities in the energy field, with a special interest in renewable resources development and deployment. If you’re in Richmond at the conference today, please look for us. We’d love to say “hi.”

Good for the Earth

Back in 1970, few who celebrated the first Earth Day could have imagined the many ways that our world would have changed in the nearly five decades since. One good change is the increasing use of renewable energy, something we have a firm interest in since many of our clients are developing, financing and servicing the industry. And the fact that it has become an industry and grows stronger every year is definitely good for the earth. So, Happy Earth Day!

If you have a question about renewable energy in Virginia or the mid-Atlantic, simply contact any of our energy lawyers.

Solar and Wind Take Center Stage at the 2018 Virginia Energy Conference

wind turbines and solar arraysRenewable energy development, driven by rising corporate demand, was a central theme of Wednesday’s 2018 Virginia Energy Conference, hosted by the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. Garret Bean, Vice President of Development for sPower and one of the keynote speakers at the conference, discussed his company’s proposed 500-megawatt facility in Spotsylvania County, which will serve corporate customers in Virginia. Microsoft announced that it will purchase 315 MW of energy from sPower’s 500 MW project as part of its sustainability goal of 60 percent renewable energy by early 2020. In addition to Microsoft, major global companies including Google, Apple, Facebook, and Walmart have joined together to commit to 100% renewable power as a part of the RE100 initiative.

In his keynote, Bean explained that rapid data center development in Virginia, sustaining 70 percent of the world’s internet traffic, coupled with customer demand for cloud services powered by clean energy sources, presents a significant opportunity for growth in Virginia’s renewable energy sector. However, with the growth of renewable energy, developers are facing siting, permitting, and interconnection challenges that will have to be overcome.

Delegate Terry Kilgore, Senator Frank Wagner, and Secretary of Natural Resources Matt Strickler also discussed the opportunities and challenges of Virginia’s renewable energy industry. Senator Wagner voiced concerns about Virginia’s proposed regulations to link to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and participate in its regional greenhouse gas emissions cap-and-trade program. However, with the passage of SB 966 this session, paving the way for 5,000 megawatts of solar and wind energy in Virginia, and Governor Northam’s announcement that the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy has posted a Request for Proposals for contracts to help strengthen Virginia’s offshore wind supply chain and service industry, the future for Virginia’s renewable energy industry is looking bright.

If you have questions about Virginia’s renewable energy industry, legislation, or regulatory structure, please contact one of GreeneHurlocker’s energy and regulatory lawyers.

U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Class Action Waivers in Arbitration Agreements

U.S. Supreme Court building.

U.S. Supreme Court building. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a decision that could bode well for competitive retail energy suppliers, the U.S. Supreme Court on May 21, 2018 upheld employers’ arbitration agreements containing class action waivers. In a 5-4 opinion by Justice Gorsuch in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, the Court deemed the arbitration provisions enforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. § 2 et seq., which requires courts to enforce an arbitration agreement unless there are grounds to refuse to enforce it under the Act’s savings clause (e.g. fraud, duress, or unconscionability).

In Epic Systems Corp., the employees challenging the arbitration agreements argued that mandated individualized proceedings (i.e. class action waivers) conflicted with language in the National Labor Relations Act, rendering the agreements unenforceable. The Court rejected the employees’ arguments, holding: “Congress has instructed in the Arbitration Act that arbitration agreements providing for individualized proceedings must be enforced, and neither the Arbitration Act’s saving clause nor the NLRA suggests otherwise.”

While this case involved employment contracts rather than retail energy supply contracts, the Court’s precedent upholding arbitration agreements with class action waivers is a good sign for retail energy suppliers concerned about potential class action claims.

If you have questions or would like to learn more issues to consider when preparing retail energy supply contracts, please contact one of GreeneHurlocker’s energy and regulatory lawyers.

Collin Atkins Joins Business Practice

Collin Atkins, business lawyerCollin Atkins, a business attorney in private practice in Richmond, has joined the business, renewable energy and corporate law practice of GreeneHurlocker PLC, co-managing member Eric Hurlocker announced today.

“Collin joins us with significant experience working with corporate clients, as well as a number of years as in-house counsel for a manufacturer, which will enhance and expand the services that we provide to our business and renewable energy clients throughout the region,” Eric said.

Atkins focuses his practice on assisting clients who require advice in formation, contract drafting, and employment and regulatory concerns. In addition, he offers counsel on a wide variety of commercial agreements across different industries, including distribution, manufacturing, service, and technology related industries, which will contribute to the expansion of the firm’s OPENgc services.

“I’m excited about joining GreeneHurlocker and partnering with clients who are growing and expanding their businesses,” Collin explains.

Atkins will be based in the firm’s Richmond office, but will also have an office at the firm’s  Harrisonburg location to support the firm’s growing practice throughout the Shenandoah Valley.

Atkins earned his undergraduate degree in history from Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina. He earned his J.D. at the William & Mary Law School, where he was a graduate research fellow and a member of the William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal.

Setting a New Barre for Fitness

We were excited to read the Richmond BizSense article on our client, City Barre LLC, who is preparing to open a new fitness studio in the Scott’s Addition neighborhood of Richmond this spring. City Barre’s new studio will offer barre classes, which combines various types of exercise techniques including yoga and ballet. We are honored to have been a part of the team that has helped City Barre, and its founder Gretchen Stumpf, get to this point and we look forward to watching City Barre succeed in this exciting new chapter!

If you want to know more about how we worked with City Barre or more about business law, please contact one of our business and corporate lawyers.

So Pleased to Join the Last Dance

GreeneHurlocker was very proud to be a long-time supporter of the Deep Run Marathon Dance, which in its final year raised over $197,000.  Over the twelve-year run of the Dance, the passionate teenagers at Deep Run High School and community volunteers raised nearly $2.2 million for worthy local non-profits.

It is always a privilege for us to join in local causes that benefit the community. We’ve supported others in past years including the Rutlin Torah AcademyUnited Way, Commonwealth Catholic Charities’ undocumented youth project and CancerLINC. If you want to know more about our community involvement, contact any of our lawyers.

Here are a few photos we took last weekend: