Some may say that 2015 was the year of the independent contractor, given the surprising increase in the use by employers of these workers rather than hiring full time employees. This year may be the one in which you determine whether you are on the side that sees this trend as providing more options and flexibility for workers to gain fulfillment from their careers, or those who argue that it merely offers a cheaper alternative labor force for employers seeking to cut the costs of benefits and retirement plans. Regardless of the point of view, it is important as we all move through 2016 to watch how the independent contractor has gone from a largely ignored minority to a rising force in which even the federal government has taken interest.

Rights of the Contractor

Just because an employer hires a worker as an independent contractor does not mean that he or she has no rights under employment laws. First, independent contractors have the right to create a work contract that outlines each party’s responsibilities in writing in the event there is a dispute later on in the working relationship. Second, the contractor has the right to be determinate over his or her own project. The employer can provide guidance as to what they are seeking in a final product, it is up to the contractor to determine just how to complete a project. Essentially, being an independent contractor means being your own boss, manager, and accountability expert. 

Finally, independent contractors are entitled to use the legal system to enforce the terms of any agreement that they believe the employer breached. Merely because there is not a more formal employment relationship does not mean that an employer can back out of an agreement without consequences. Breach of contract actions are a common way to ensure that the terms of an agreement are upheld, or penalties are paid in recompense.

Employer Beware

Employers who are seeking to use independent contractors as a part of their labor force must also be sure that they are following the rules when it comes to worker classification. The increase in the use of independent contractors by companies across the country came with a new level of scrutiny by federal and state agencies. The federal Department of Labor (DOL) had numerous victories in court throughout 2015 after cracking down on employers who were misclassifying employees as independent contractors in order to evade taxes and save money on costs (i.e. worker benefits and insurance). The State of California also kept a close eye on employers, especially after a number of Uber drivers sued their employer alleging that they were misclassified as independent contractors. 

A Way Forward

A new year brings hope and promise, just as it also brings new challenges. In order to be ready for the road ahead, it is important to first reflect on the teachings of the past. It is through this reflection that employers and employees can be better prepared for what is ahead and be able to best protect their own interests in order to stay on a path toward success. Whether you are an employer seeking new ways of doing business or an employee who wants to make sure they are protected, the attorneys at Garcia & Gurney can assist you. Call today and speak with one of our experienced employment attorneys about your situation. We can act as your guide, or represent you, depending on what you need to get ahead in 2016.