Employment Law Report
Tax Issues Associated with Misclassification of Persons as Independent Contractors
When the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor or a state department of labor determines that an employer has misclassified employees as independent contractors and has failed to pay them minimum wage or overtime pay required by law, the remedy at the administrative level typically has been for the employer to pay the affected employees back pay sufficient to make up for the lost wages. Of course, an employer which has misclassified employees in this fashion has not been withholding federal, state, or local income taxes, or FICA, and has not been remitting those taxes (including the employer’s share of FICA) or filing quarterly payroll tax returns with the government regarding the misclassified workers.
A lingering, worrisome question in settling such disputes with the Wage and Hour Division or a state department of labor has been whether the employer will be reported to state or federal internal revenue agencies and will be required to pay taxes, penalties, and interest in addition to back pay. The specter of facing the tax man in such matters became more real yesterday, when U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis announced that she has signed memoranda of understanding (MOU’s) with the Internal Revenue Service and the state labor commissioners and other state agencies in the states of Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Utah and Washington, pledging greater cooperation to share information in an effort to protect employees from being improperly classified as independent contractors.
According to a press release issued by the Department of Labor yesterday, “the memorandums of understanding will enable the U.S. Department of Labor to share information and coordinate law enforcement with the IRS and participating states in order to level the playing field for law-abiding employers and ensure that employees receive the protections to which they are entitled under federal and state law.”
“We’re here today to sign a series of agreements that together send a coordinated message: We’re standing united to end the practice of misclassifying employees,” said Secretary Solis. “We are taking important steps toward making sure that the American dream is still available for all employees and responsible employers alike.”
“This agreement takes the partnership between the IRS and Department of Labor to a new level,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “In this new phase of our relationship, we will work together more efficiently to address worker misclassification issues, and better serve the needs of small businesses and employees.”
The MOU’s were not posted on the Department of Labor’s website, and their precise details are not available at the moment. But this development will likely increase the cost of misclassification to employers and provide greater incentive for them to ensure that workers are correctly classified.