You have some very serious legal issues involving tax law and employment law, including wage and hour law. Please do not try to handle this on your own. I cannot urge you strongly enough to consult with one or more experienced employment law attorneys with whom you can discuss the details of your situation, and also a tax professional (attorney or CPA) who can coordinate with your employment attorney. Know that your employer may be on the hook in a number of ways, but that ultimately, you are responsible for your taxes.
The main issue in determining who is an employee and who is an independent contractor is who controls your work. The general rule is that a person is an independent contractor if the employer has the right to control or direct the RESULTS of the work but not HOW the work is done or even WHAT work is done.
Many employers misclassify workers as independent contractors and pay them as "1099 employees" when in fact they should be classified and paid as regular W-2 employees. Employers receive a substantial benefit from doing this, but there is NO benefit to the workers. If you are wrongly classified as an independent contractor instead of an employee, you will not be eligible for many benefits of employment or your eligibility will be reduced. Areas affected include the right to:
– be paid for all hours worked or controlled by the employer;
– the legal minimum wage;
– overtime pay;
– rest and meal breaks;
– workers' compensation insurance;
– Social Security contributions;
– unemployment benefits;
– state disability benefits;
– employer benefits such as vacation, sick leave, pension, medical insurance, etc.
Also, in some states, including California, employers are subject to a penalty if they misclassify employees as independent contractors (see below).
There are different ways to determine if a worker is an employee or independent contractor. Employers must comply with all relevant laws.
FEDERAL TAX LAW: The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) looks at three areas to determine a worker’s status:
Behavioral Control: This area considers instructions and training. If the employer has the right to direct or control your work, even if it does not exercise that right, you are an employee. Therefore, if your employer gives you detailed or extensive instructions on how to get the job done, you are probably an employee and not an independent contractor. These instructions might include when to do the work, or how and where to do it; what equipment or tools to use; who you can hire or not hire to help you; what supplies and services to buy, and/or where to buy them. If the employer trains you in required methods of doing the work or the procedures to get the work done, this is evidence the employer wants things done its way, which indicates you are an employee and not an independent contractor.
Financial Control: This area considers who has the right to direct and control the business, not just the work. The more of a financial or promotional investment you have made in the work, the more likely you are an independent contractor. However, there is no requirement for an investment in order to meet the definition of independent contractor. If you incur expenses in performing the work but are not completely reimbursed, you are more likely to be an independent contractor rather than an employee, especially if these expenses are high. If you have the chance to make a profit or loss on the work, you are probably in business for yourself and therefore an independent contractor.
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*** All legal actions have time limits, called statutes of limitation. If you miss the deadline for filing your claim, you will lose the opportunity to pursue your case. Please consult with an experienced employment attorney as soon as possible to better preserve your rights. *** Marilynn Mika Spencer provides information on Avvo as a service to the public, primarily when general information may be of assistance. Avvo is not an appropriate forum for an in-depth response or a detailed analysis. These comments are for information only and should not be considered legal advice. Legal advice must pertain to specific, detailed facts. No attorney-client relationship is created based on this information exchange. *** Marilynn Mika Spencer is licensed to practice law before all state and federal courts in California, and can appear before administrative agencies throughout the country. She is eligible to represent clients in other states on a pro hac vice basis. ***
Yes, you can take the matter to court about your mischaracterization as an independent contractor instead of an employee. While there may be good reasons to do so, it will not relieve you of your obligation to pay taxes to the IRS or any other government authority to which taxes should have been paid by you.
Your conclusion that you were an employee and not an IC seems to be based on the employer control factor. However, there are many factors that need to be assessed in addition to control before a conclusion can be drawn as to whether you were actually an employee or IC. It is a very factually intensive analysis. It would best be performed in person with an attorney as opposed to on this site. I would like to encourage you to locate a local employment law attorney and consult with him or her.
Good luck to you.
This answer should not be construed to create any attorney-client relationship. Such a relationship can be formed only through the mutual execution of an attorney-client agreement. The answer given is based on the extremely limited facts provided and the proper course of action might change significantly with the introduction of other facts. All who read this answer should not rely on the answer to govern their conduct. Please seek the advice of competent counsel after disclosing all facts to that attorney. This answer is intended for California residents only. The answering party is only licensed to practice in the State of California.
I really can't beat Ms. Spencer's answer, it was excellent and thorough.
But to add one thing, both the federal government and State of California are taking the default approach that every so called independent contractor is an employee and forcing the employer to prove the opposite.
Definitely contact an employment attorney in your area.