Jean Tom


For a worker in today's economy, being designated an "independent contractor" can mean many different things. On the most basic level, it means being treated differently than employees for tax and benefit purposes: Independent contractors are ineligible for the minimum wage, health and safety protections, workers' compensation, disability insurance, and right to form labor unions to which employees are entitled. Yet despite their ineligibility for such work-related benefits, the independent contractor label is not necessarily undesirable to all workers. Some workers, particularly those on the high end of the wage scale, actively embrace the designation and the "free agent" lifestyle to which it corresponds. For many other workers, however, the designation is not so felicitous. In an era in which global competition has driven many companies to convert permanent jobs into subcontracted and temporary jobs, workers may find their once permanent jobs "reclassified" as independent contractor positions with the attendant loss of benefits and protections. For these workers, the label of independent contractor is thrust onto their work life involuntarily and can be the difference between receiving a living wage with the necessary benefits and protections and working in a job that, because one must pay for one's own health care, insurance and taxes, does not allow one to make ends meet.

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