We all know how the song goes: “You’ve gotta fight... for your right... to paaartaaaay.”
As an independent contractor, however, you have to fight for a lot more than that.
The truth is, many employers are grossly misinformed as to how to treat their independently contracted and freelance employees. Do they get the same compensation as full-time workers? The same benefits, etc? Do they work on the same schedule as other employees? On the same days?
This may surprise you, but many employers struggle to give independent contractors even the most basic of their rights: their paychecks. Independent contractors and freelancers alike have to deal with hassles such as late payments all the time.
One way to better defend yourself is to understand your rights as an independent contractor, which is what I’m here to help you do.
Independent contractor rights
As an independent contractor, there are six essential, inarguable rights. If an employer ever tries to infringe upon one of these rights, you should stand up for yourself, and even take legal action if you feel able.
Many states have different considerations for who an independent contractor really is, so you should be clear about your classifications before entering any type of work. Check with your local authorities to determine your working classification.
1. Right to control
As an independent contractor, you have the right to control over your work. A client may hire you to do something, but you as the professional get to decide how it is done.
This is a difficult concept for many to understand. If someone hires you as a plumber, you don’t have to fix it the way they want. As a silly example, you wouldn’t have to use their special blue plunger just because it’s what they prefer. You’d get the job done the best way you know how.
You’ve been hired to perform a service, or provide a product, and as an IC, you get to decide exactly how. If the person or team that hired you is trying to control how you work, they’re acting as though you are their employee, which is not the case.
2. Right to work how you like
One major benefit of being an IC is that you get to create your own rules. For example, do you want Sundays AND Mondays off (who wouldn’t)? You get to decide!
Do you want an office, or would you rather work out of a co-working space? Again, you decide! (Although if you’re going to run a business out of your home, make sure you’re in compliance with local business laws.)
The only reason this would change is if your work is specific to a certain location. For example, you can’t build a house anywhere you’d like. You have to build on the plot of land your client purchased.
3. Right to a contract
Independent contractors have the right to a signed contract. It’s in the name! A contract legally binds both parties to agreed-upon terms and protects you as a contractor from any broken promises.
Before signing a contract, be sure to read over it and ensure you are correctly classified as an independent contractor and that the hiring party is a client of yours. This is important so that if there is any trouble, your relationship is legally documented.
A contract should also specify what you’ve been hired to do for the client, their expectations for a job well done, as well as the rate of pay. For a more in-depth agreement, consider drafting a statement of work.
4. Right to market your services
As an IC, you are not tied to one specific client. So long as you can complete all the work you sign up for on time, you’re allowed to work on multiple jobs at once.
As such, you have a right to market to clients and businesses. You are in charge of finding your own work, and no client can stop you from doing so. If you feel a client is trying to limit you to only working for them, be sure to inform them you have a right to accept other jobs.
5. Right to engage other contractors
As an independent contractor, you also have a right to hire the team that you need. This can mean you hire your own sub-contractors, or partner up with other ICs. If you intend on doing so, you should inform your client of this before work begins. To be safe, you should also include any other contractors in your paperwork.
This keeps clients from wondering why additional names are on the payroll, or why additional faces are in the office. It’s always best to be up-front about who will be working on the project.
6. Right to your own business management
This is what most consider to be the hard part of being an independent contractor:everything on the business side is up to you. Examples of this are business insurance, healthcare, payroll for subcontractors, vacation allotments, etc.
Additionally, you as a business manager have to ensure you’re filing taxes properly have the proper documentation such as a business license.
With the IC classification, you are required to file self-employment taxes, while your clients are responsible for filling out a 1099-MISC form to report any payments they gave you. For additional information, check out the IRS self-employed tax center.
Fight for your rights
You have these rights today, undoubtedly, because many ICs have come before you and won them the hard way. It is the unfortunate truth that clients do not always treat their independent contractors with the same respect they treat employees.
If you feel you are not being treated fairly, you should take action. And if a client is challenging your status as an IC, you can fill out form SS-8 with the IRS to officially determine your worker status.
Grace Pinegar is a lifelong storyteller with an extensive background in various forms such as acting, journalism, improv, research, and content marketing. She was raised in Texas, educated in Missouri, worked in Chicago, and is now a proud New Yorker. (she/her/hers)