How do you determine if a worker is an employee or an independent contractor?

The determination can be complex and depends on the facts and circumstances of each case. The determination is based on whether the person for whom the services are performed has the right to control how the worker performs the services. It’s not based merely on how the worker is paid, how often the worker is paid, or whether the work is part-time or full-time.

There are three basic categories of factors that are relevant to determining a worker’s classification:

  • Behavioral control (whether there’s a right to direct or control how the worker does the work),
  • Financial control (whether there’s a right to direct or control the business part of the work), and
  • Relationship of the parties (how the business and worker perceive the relationship).

For more information on employer-employee relationships, refer to Publication 15, (Circular E), Employer’s Tax Guide and Publication 15-A, Employer’s Supplemental Tax Guide. Also, refer to Publication 1779, Independent Contractor or Employee.

If you would like the IRS to determine whether services are performed as an employee or independent contractor, you may submit Form SS-8, Determination of Worker Status for Purposes of Federal Employment Taxes and Income Tax Withholding.

Are transit passes and parking for independent contractors reportable on a 1099-MISC form?

Although you cannot provide qualified transportation fringes to independent contractors, the working condition and de minimis fringe rules for transit passes and parking apply to independent contractors. Tokens or farecards that enable an independent contractor to commute on a public transit system (not including privately operated van pools) are excludable from the independent contractor’s gross income and are not reportable on Form 1099-MISC if their value in any month is $21 or less. However, if the value of a pass provided in a month is greater than $21, the full value is part of the gross income and must be reported on Form 1099-MISC (Box 7). The value of parking may be excludable from an independent contractor’s gross income, and, therefore, not reportable on Form 1099-MISC if certain requirements are met. See Regulations section 1.132-9(b), Q/A-24.

For additional information see the 2019 Instructions for Form 1099-MISC 

How can I tell if a worker is an employee or an independent contractor?

For federal employment tax purposes, the usual common law rules are applicable to determine if a worker is an independent contractor or an employee. Under the common law, you must examine the relationship between the worker and the business. You should consider all evidence of the degree of control and independence in this relationship. The facts that provide this evidence fall into three categories – Behavioral Control, Financial Control, and Relationship of the Parties.

Behavioral Control covers facts that show if the business has a right to direct and control what work is accomplished and how the work is done, through instructions, training, or other means.

Financial Control covers facts that show if the business has a right to direct or control the financial and business aspects of the worker’s job. This includes:

  • The extent to which the worker has unreimbursed business expenses
  • The extent of the worker’s investment in the facilities or tools used in performing services
  • The extent to which the worker makes his or her services available to the relevant market
  • How the business pays the worker, and
  • The extent to which the worker can realize a profit or incur a loss

Relationship of the Parties covers facts that show the type of relationship the parties had. This includes:

  • Written contracts describing the relationship the parties intended to create
  • Whether the business provides the worker with employee-type benefits, such as insurance, a pension plan, vacation pay, or sick pay
  • The permanency of the relationship, and
  • The extent to which services performed by the worker are a key aspect of the regular business of the company