The difference between an independent contractor and an employee in Washington, D.C., is crucial. In general, companies are not required to provide independent contractors with the same benefits they offer to employees. However, this can present difficult issues when a worker challenges a classification as an independent contractor. Take, for example, the story of one worker who was denied benefits for being classified as an independent contractor rather than as a government employee, and was ultimately let go from her job.
The woman worked for the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities for two and a half years, working 40 hours a week. She monitored employee performance reviews and grant applications for certain projects. Her name was included on the agency's staff directory, and she had government-issued business cards, a cellphone and an email address. Despite this, she was classified as an independent contractor rather than as a government employee.
However, when the woman became pregnant she learned that her classification as an independent contractor meant that she would not receive the eight paid weeks of maternity leave that other District government employees were entitled to. She believed that she may have been misclassified and that the scope of her employment responsibilities should have designated her as an employee rather than as an independent contractor. However, after she brought the issue up, she was let go from her job, allegedly due to a mistake in funding.
Attorney Alan Lescht commented that some companies will hire a worker but classify that person as an independent contractor so they do not have to pay that worker overtime and benefits. However, a closer examination of that worker's job duties may reveal that a misclassification has occurred, and that the worker should be classified as an employee.
Unfortunately, this woman's case is not unique. People across the nation, working for high-profile employers such as Homejoy Cleaners and Uber, are challenging their classification as independent contractors, arguing that they should instead be classified as employees. The misclassification of employees is a major problem, one that employers may not even understand. In the end, workers should understand that they have the right to challenge their classification as an independent contractor.
Source: The Washington Post, "She thought she was entitled to maternity leave. After asking for it, she lost her job.," Lydia DePillis, Aug. 14, 2015