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Virtual Assistant: Are you an Employee or Independent Contractor

This post speaks to the issue of whether or not you should be classified as an employee or independent contractor in the USA. I’d love to hear how this works in other countries, especially the UK and Canada so please comment and share.The Pen and the Sword, Situations Present Discrepancies

In the USA there are very specific criteria that classifies you as either an employee or independent contractor and it’s not just because you “say” you are or the person you’re doing work for says you are. As a Virtual Assistant who desires to own her own business you must stay on top of this and do not allow your position to creep into the employee threshold.

You can help your clients by now allowing them to:

Provide Training — If your client provides training to you, they’re into the employer zone. It is tempting to allow this to occur but you should provide your own training or alternatively they can ask that you do the training, pay for that plus your time. But, they make no requirements that you only use the training with them.

Not pay for your time — Do not host meetings, attend meetings, whether online or offline without being paid. It is fine if in your contract you offer a set amount of time per week or month free, but as an independent contractor you simply do the work in your own way, there should be very little need for meetings.

Instruct you on minutiae — Your client should not tell you how to do your job. It’s none of their business what email you use, what project management system you choose, or how you invoice. If they do not like how you do this, perhaps they need to find someone else. It is best that you have your own project management system set up in which to  invite your clients than vice versa. You’re free to do it differently if you do not want to pay for a system, but be aware of crossing to employee status if they require it.

Require certain hours –Your clients cannot require that you be “open” or “available” during any specific hours that they are not paying you.  If you are required to be there, answer the phone, or other such tasks then you should get paid for the entire time, not just when you’re on the phone.  If your client hands, or emails you a form to track time, say no. You should have your own system in place to track time if you’re still charging hourly instead of by package.

Furnish software or supplies — Your clients should not be providing any software, supplies, cell phones, or even a special email address in which to conduct business or the IRS could decide that you’re an employee. It is tempting and I have done it myself, but I am second thinking this due to this rule. Think about it this way: Your plumber, lawyer, accounting, and housekeeper do not have email accounts @ your business right?

Assign a title or space to you — Avoid being listed on a website, office door, or anywhere as “Administrative Assistant” or other TO that business. This is a red flag to the IRS and you could be reclassified as an employee. If your client wants to brag about you ask that they give you a testimonial on your own website and perhaps list you as a “contractor” on theirs if they want.

All these rules can be confusing but they are in place to protect you, the Independent Contractor and other workers from being classified as an Independent contractor when they’re not, thus placing the responsibility for employment taxes on the worker instead of the employer.

As a Virtual Assistant you probably want to be an Independent Contractor so make sure you take steps to avoid any confusion as to your title and place within your client’s business.

Creative Commons License photo credit: ARHiggins

About Stephanie Watson

Mom | Wife | Virtual Assistant | Content Strategist
Stephanie has been working from home for over 20 years as a virtual assistant, template bender, and content writer. She's currently transitioning to business coach. You can learn more about her at her website

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