in·de·pen·dent adjective \ˌin-də-ˈpen-dənt\

1: not dependent: as a (1) : not subject to control by others

con·trac·tor noun \1 usually ˈkän-ˌtrak-tər, 2 usually kən-ˈ\

1: one that contracts or is party to a contract: as a : one that contracts to perform work or provide supplies

Two words with straightforward meanings; at least one would think. But put those words together—“independent contractor”—and their meaning in the workplace context is often anything but clear. Applying the independent contractor label carelessly can lead to a world of trouble.

Whether workers are properly designated as independent contractors, rather than employees, depends on a host of factors. The pivotal factor is whether the principal controls the manner and means of accomplishing the desired result.

Manner and Means: Determining The Level Of Control Exerted

If I offered to pay you to deliver something to a particular place before a particular time––say the ceremonial ball to Times Square by New Year’s Eve 2014––but I gave you no additional instructions, you would be free to choose the manner and means you used to get the ball there. Your route could be circuitous, or direct, as long as the ball arrived at the location before the deadline. You could mail it, carry it on a bus, drive it by car, fly it in a plane, or take it by boat.  You could, theoretically at least, hire a mule team to take you and the ball to New York. Or, you could avoid the hassle altogether and pay a friend to do it.
Continue Reading