Does Your Employer Misclassify You as an Independent Contractor Instead of as an Employee?

It is not uncommon for employers to misclassify employees as independent contractors, either to intentionally avoid their withholding and tax responsibilities or because they are not aware of the laws regarding the issue. If your employer reports your income on a Form 1099 (as opposed to a W-2), you are being treated as an independent contractor, not as an employee. This can have significant ramifications in terms of how much you have to pay in income, Social Security, and Medicare taxes.

The general distinction, of course, is that an employee is an individual who works under the direction and control of an employer, and an independent contractor is a business owner or contractor who provides services to other businesses.

To determine whether a worker is an independent contractor or an employee, the IRS examines the relationship between the worker and the business and considers all evidence regarding control and independence. This evidence falls into the following three categories:

(1) Behavioral control covers whether the business has the right to direct or control how the work is done through instructions, training, or other means. Employees are generally given instructions on when and where to work, what tools to use, where to purchase supplies, what order to follow, and so on.

(2) Financial control covers whether the business has the right to 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 his or her investment in the facilities being used; the extent to which his or her services are made available to the relevant market; how he or she is paid; and the extent to which he or she can realize a profit or incur a loss.

(3) Type of relationship includes any written contracts that describe the relationship the parties intended to create; the extent to which the worker is available to perform services for other, similar businesses; 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 the worker’s services are a key aspect of the company’s regular business.

When a worker’s status is in doubt, Form SS-8 (Determination of Employee Work Status for Purposes of Federal Employment Taxes and Income Tax Withholding) can be used. This form may be completed by an employer or a worker; it asks the IRS to determine whether the worker is an employee or an independent contractor for federal tax purposes. Form SS-8 is filed separately from the requestor’s tax return. The IRS does not issue determinations for proposed employment arrangements or hypothetical situations, and it will only issue a determination if the statute of limitations for the year at issue hasn’t expired.

If an employee wants to avoid paying self-employed tax on 1099-MISC income after he or she has already been determined to be an employee – or when he or she has filed an SS-8 but has not received a response – that individual can file Form 8919, which only requires payment of what would have been withheld if the worker had been treated as an employee. Form 8919 requires the employee to choose one of these codes:

Code A. I filed Form SS-8 and received a determination letter stating that I am an employee of this firm.
Code C. I received other correspondence from the IRS that states I am an employee.
Code G. I filed Form SS-8 with the IRS but have not received a reply.
Code H. I received a Form W-2 and a Form 1099-MISC from this firm for the same tax year. The amount on Form 1099-MISC should have been included as wages on the Form W-2.

If using Code H, do not file an SS-8. Here are some examples of amounts that are sometimes erroneously included (but not necessarily deliberately misclassified) on Form 1099-MISC and that should be reported as wages on Form W-2: employee bonuses, awards, travel expense reimbursements not paid under an accountable plan, scholarships, and signing bonuses.

If Code G is used, both the employee and the firm that paid the employee may be contacted for additional information. Use of this code is not a guarantee that the IRS will agree with the worker’s opinion as to his or her status. If the IRS does not agree that the worker is an employee, the worker may be billed an additional amount for the employment tax, as well as penalties and interest resulting from the change in the worker’s status.

If the IRS determination is for multiple open years, the employee can amend returns for open years to recover a portion of the self-employed tax paid.

If you have questions about being misclassified as an independent contractor, please give this office a call.

Are You Ignoring the Household Employee Payroll Rules?

If you hire a domestic worker to provide services in or around your home, you probably have a tax liability that you don’t know about – or one that you do know about but are ignoring. Either situation can come back to bite you. When the worker is your employee, your liability includes both withholding and paying payroll taxes as well as issuing a W-2 after the close of the year.

Sure, it is a lot easier simply to pay your worker in cash so as to avoid federal and state payroll taxes – and all the paperwork that goes with them. Your domestic worker will likely be fully cooperative with a cash deal because he or she can also avoid paying taxes. However, if the IRS or your state employment department finds out about these payments, the result could be very unpleasant for you.

Not everyone who performs services in or around your home is classified as an employee. For instance, a plumber or electrician who makes repairs in your home will generally be a licensed contractor; the government does not classify contractors as employees.

On the other hand, the IRS has conclusively ruled that nannies, housekeepers, senior caregivers, some gardeners and various other domestic workers are employees of the people for whom they work. It makes no difference if you have a written contract with the employee; similarly, the number of hours worked and the amount paid do not matter.

You are probably thinking, “Wait a minute” – perhaps everyone you know pays in cash, and none of them has paid payroll taxes or issued a W-2 for a household employee. However, if a worker gets injured on your property or if you dismiss the worker under less-than-amicable circumstances, it’s a pretty sure bet that your household employee will be the first one to throw you under the bus by reporting you to the state labor board or by filing for unemployment compensation.

Even some big-name people have been caught up in this issue. Just recently (as seems to happen every four years), a presidential nominee, Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), was revealed to have failed to pay more than $15,000 in taxes on behalf of the nanny for his newborn triplets. He subsequently paid the back taxes and was confirmed as Director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Some individuals try to circumvent the payroll issue by treating a household employee as an independent contractor, incorrectly issuing the household employee a Form 1099-MISC.

Here are the correct actions you should take for domestic employees:

  • Obtain a Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN), which you will use in lieu of your Social Security Number when filing the required reporting forms. Note: If, as the owner of a sole proprietorship business, you already have a FEIN, you should use that number instead of requesting a separate one as a household employer.
  • Obtain a state ID number for unemployment insurance and state tax withholdings.
  • Withhold Social Security and Medicare taxes from the employee’s pay if it exceeds the annual threshold ($2,000 for 2017).
  • Withhold income tax from the employee if the worker requests and if you agree to do so.
  • File state employment tax returns as required – generally quarterly (although beware that some states require monthly returns) – and make the required deposits for state employment taxes.
  • Prepare a W-2 for the employee and a W-3 transmittal; file them by the end of January.
  • File Schedule H with your federal individual income tax return, and pay all the federal payroll and withholding taxes (i.e., the federal taxes that you withheld from the employee’s pay, plus your matching share of Social Security, Medicare and federal unemployment taxes). Limited exception: If you operate a sole proprietorship with employees, you may include the payroll taxes of your household workers with those of the business’s employees, but you cannot take a business deduction for those taxes. Generally, it is better to keep the personal and business reporting separate.

Some additional issues to consider are as follows:

Overtime – Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, domestic employees are nonexempt workers and are entitled to overtime pay after working 40 hours in a week. Live-in employees are an exception to this rule in most states.

Hourly Pay or Salary – It is illegal to treat nonexempt employees as if they are salaried.

Separate Payrolls – If you own a business with a payroll, you may be tempted to include your household employees on the company’s payroll. The payments to the household employees are personal expenses, however, and are not allowable deductions for a business. Thus, you must maintain a separate payroll for household employees; in other words, you must use personal funds to pay household workers and instead of paying them from a business account.

Eligibility to Work in the U.S. – It is illegal to knowingly hire or continue to employ an alien who is not legally eligible to work in the U.S. When hiring a household employee who works on a regular basis, you and the employee each must complete Form I-9 (Employment Eligibility Verification). You will need to examine the documents that the employee presents to establish the employee’s identity and employment eligibility.

Other Issues – Special situations not covered in this overview include how to handle workers hired through an agency, how to gross up wages if you choose to pay an employee’s share of Social Security and Medicare taxes, and how to treat noncash wages.

Please call this office if you would like assistance with your household employee tax and reporting requirements or with any special issues that apply to your state.

Don’t Be Left Holding the Tax Bag

If you use independent contractors in your business and pay them $600 or more during the calendar year, you are required to issue them a 1099-MISC after the close of the year. If you fail to do so, and your (if you operate as a Schedule C sole proprietor) or your business’s income tax return is subsequently audited, you could lose the deduction for those payments and end up paying taxes on that income yourself, not to mention potential penalties.

A big tax trap for businesses is the $600 reporting threshold. Say your business uses the services of an independent contractor early in the year at a cost below the $600 threshold, and you don’t bother to obtain the necessary reporting information from the contractor. If you use the contractor’s services again later in the year and the combined total you’ve paid him or her exceeds the reporting threshold, you won’t have the required reporting information.

Sorry to say, you may find it difficult to obtain that information after the fact, as not all self-employed individuals report all their income, and contractors may not be willing to give you their tax ID information once they’ve completed the work and gotten your payment for their services. So, it is good practice to collect that information upfront before engaging the contractor regardless of the amount.

The IRS provides Form W-9 — Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification — as a means for you to obtain the data required from your vendors in order to file the required 1099-MISC forms after the close of the year. A completed W-9 also provides you with verification that you complied with the law should the vendor provide you with incorrect information.

In addition, there are substantial penalties if you fail to file a correct 1099-MISC by the due date and you cannot show reasonable cause for not filing. Generally, for 1099 forms due in 2017, the penalty is $50 per 1099-MISC for not filing by the due date. The penalty increases to $100 if the form is not filed within 30 days of the due date and $260 after August 1, 2017. The maximum penalty for small businesses is $532,000, so you can see this is not a reporting requirement to be taken lightly.

Oh, and by the way, the due date for filing 2016 Forms 1099-MISC with the IRS is January 31, 2017, when you are reporting nonemployee compensation (box 7 of the form), which includes the income paid to independent contractors. This due date is a month (two months if you’ve been filing your 1099s electronically) earlier than it has been in the past. So now both the government’s copy and the one you provide the contractor are due by the same date.

If you have questions related to your 1099-MISC reporting requirements or need assistance filing the required forms after the end of the year, please give this office a call.

Don’t Forget Those Nominee 1099s

For tax purposes, if you receive, in your name, income that actually belongs to someone else, you are also a nominee. Being a nominee means you must file with the IRS a 1099 form appropriate to the type of income you received that reports the other individual’s share of the income and give a copy of the 1099 to the actual owner of the income. However, if the other person is your spouse, no 1099 filing is required.

The most commonly encountered nominee situations include when you have a joint bank account or brokerage account with someone other than your spouse and all the income from those accounts is reported under your Social Security number (SSN). You will need to issue the IRS and your joint account owner a 1099 reporting the co-owner’s share of the income under his or her SSN. Then, when you file your return, you show all of the income but back out the co-owner’s share as “nominee amount.” Thus only your portion of the income is included in your taxable income.

The type of 1099 depends upon the type of income: 1099-INT for interest, 1099-DIV for dividends and 1099-B for the proceeds from selling stocks and bonds.

Forms 1099-INT and 1099-DIV that you issue as a nominee are supposed to be given to the recipients by January 31, while the deadline for giving Forms 1099-B to the other owner(s) is February 15. In order to avoid a penalty, copies of the 1099s need to be sent to the IRS by February 28. (When these due dates are a Saturday, Sunday or legal holiday, as they are in 2015, the forms become due on the next business day.) The 1099s must be submitted on magnetic media or on optically scannable forms (OCR forms). This firm prepares 1099s in OCR format for submission to the IRS along with the required 1096 transmittal form. This service provides recipient and file copies for your records.

If you have questions about filing 1099s, please call this office.