Independent Workforce

 

The word independent brings about many conflicting emotions and memories for me. My mother always delights in telling stories of my bull-headed independent nature as a baby, I think back on the many times I have gone and done things people told me I couldn’t do, and then there are those private independent moments where its just you and what’s in front of you. Could be the road on which my bike wheels roll; the car that has just cut me off, a book, a snuggling cat – or perhaps the W-4 tax form oh so familiar to the “independent contractor”.

 

This topic has been the cause of many heated discussions I’ve found myself in with fellow independents, creative directors, human resources and other schleps like myself who work day and night striving for financial security. I’m coming from that place full-timers dub “oh your freelance? So your unemployable right?” – or – “Oh you haven’t held down a long-term position, so you’re not a team player eh?”. I could go on but then I would risk becoming a written out Shit People Say meme. The point is that there exists a serious disconnect in the professional world between the 9 to 5 and the 9-11,11-11:45,3-5,6:30-3am. Wouldn’t you know it, other people have noticed too!

 

Today Twitter brought me a delightful infographic detailing some real independent workforce statistics, and how its on the rise and gaining popularity. But, this is not just a blog praising the sweet graces of a flexible schedule – there is a serious problem with this infographic and that is Corporate Responsibility.

 

Perhaps the reason the Independent Contractor position is on the rise, is because the American worker is so employment hungry as we come out the recession that they will in reality take just about any type of position and not say anything except please sir may I have another.

 

An Independent contractor is defined as:

Independent contractors retain control over their schedule and number of hours worked, jobs accepted, and performance of their job. In addition, they may have a major investment in equipment, furnish all their own supplies, provide their own insurance, repairs, and all other expenses related to their business. They may also perform a special service that is not in the normal course of business of the employer. This contrasts with the situation for regular employees, who usually work at the schedule required by the employer and whose performance is directly supervised by the employer.

 

Wikipedia was also kind enough to make a list:

 

Advantages

- Since they are rarely tied to an employer, they are free to set their own rules of business, limited only by bargaining power.

- Since they usually develop a large network of clients, the loss of one or two often has a negligible effect.

- Many people simply like the idea of “being your own boss.” Aside from materialistic benefits, many people simply enjoy not having to answer to a supervisor.

- As an artist/author of any tangible artwork, such as paintings, sculptures, photographs, or written works, a person is entitled to exclusive copyright ownership if they created the work as an independent contractor. If the person created such works while in the employ of another person or corporation, the rights belong to the employer (under most standard employment contracts).

 

Disadvantages

- In the United States employer misclassification of employees as “independent contractors” to avoid employment taxation and regulation is widespread.

- An independent contractor can itself be a business with employees; however, in most cases in the United States independent contractors operate as sole a sole proprietorship or single-member limited liability company. This means the independent contractor, as a business owner, incurs its own expenses to provide the contracted service, must acquire its own equipment to perform the service, and is responsible for business filings such as income tax returns.

-Independent contractors are responsible for their own self-employment tax, which consists of both halves of the FICA tax amount. An employee only pays the employee portion of the FICA tax. Self-employment taxes are not withheld from the earnings of independent contractors who are required to voluntarily declare and pay estimated earnings taxes to the IRS, which can lead to a trap for contractors who run into financial difficulty and become tempted to put off making the required estimated tax payments.

- There are several monetary incentives that are guaranteed to employees in the United States, but not independent contractors. Examples include worker’s compensation and unemployment insurance; however, independent contractors are allowed to make Individual Retirement Account contributions.

 

Is it just me or do the disadvantages not quite equal the advantages? More importantly “the misclassification of employees as “independent contractors” to avoid employment taxation and regulation is widespread”.

 

So while I love the attention statisticians have given to the increasing prevalence of independent contractors…I would throw caution into the wind for anyone looking to use this graphic as positive reinforcement. I also challenge the hiring force to judge years of freelance experience as evidence of someone who is not a team player…and a warning to those companies who infringe on employment law.

 

Personally, I am a freelance designer because I enjoy the constantly changing topics and markets I have the pleasure to design for. I am well rounded and capable of getting things done without having to ask a million questions or have someone hold my hand. Then again, I enjoy the camaraderie and idea sharing that a design firm offers – so I dabble in both worlds, all the while holding myself to strict code of ethics and respect for clients.