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Distinction between employee and contractor is not always clear

The proper classification of workers is an essential component of doing business in Washington, D.C. The difference between being classified as an employee or an independent contractor can affect a worker's pay, his or her freedom to his or her job and his or her eligibility for benefits. As many workers in Washington, D.C., can attest, however, the line between independent contractor and employee is not always so clear cut these days.

Take, for example, the food delivery company Munchery. Initially, drivers for Munchery were considered to be independent contractors, and therefore did not fall under overtime or minimum wage laws, nor were they eligible for benefits. However, in 2013 Munchery began classifying drivers as employees, protected by law and eligible for health insurance under certain circumstances.

In general there are some differences between independent contractors and employees. For example, independent contractors may be able to choose how often they want to work, while to be considered an employee, one's company usually needs to exercise a certain amount of control over how the employee's work duties are performed.

Some companies find that when they classify workers as independent contractors, worker turnover can be high and quality can suffer. Employees can be given job training and may be held to certain standards. However, training is not always indicative of good service. And although some companies might argue otherwise, the nature of control they have over the way a worker's job duties are carried out alongside the fact that these workers may execute services that are deemed a fundamental part of their business may indicate that an employer-employee relationship does in fact exist.

It is important not to misclassify employees. If a worker is considered an employee, that comes with all the associated protections of the law, such as overtime laws. In addition, employees may be eligible for workplace benefits that independent contractors are not. If a worker in Washington, D.C., feels he or she is being misclassified, he or she should seek the advice needed to understand how the law applies to his or her situation.

Source: The New York Times, "A Middle Ground Between Contract Worker and Employee," Noam Scheiber, Dec. 10, 2015

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