What are the consequences of misclassifying a worker?

In the news and social media recently has been the sad story about a popular service offering classes for homeschool students having to close. In late December 2016, Landry Academy announced “It is with much sadness that we close the doors of Landry Academy.”

I do not know the details of their unfortunate situation, but it seems that there was an IRS requirement for Landry Academy to reclassify their teachers as employees, rather than independent contractors.

You may be wondering: What are the consequences of misclassifying workers?

Here’s what I tell business owners, nonprofit leaders, and anyone else hiring workers:

IRS Penalties

Under Internal Revenue Code section 3509 the penalties for worker misclassification include:

  • Paying a portion of federal income tax (1.5% of payroll),
  • Employer (100%) and employee (20%) shares of FICA taxes
  • Federal unemployment compensation taxes (FUTA).
  • In addition penalties for missed deposits (10%) and withholdings (20%) can be assessed.

Additional penalties include:

  • $50 for each Form W-2 that the employer failed to file because of classifying workers as an independent contractor.
  • A Failure to Pay Taxes penalty equal to 0.5% of the unpaid tax liability for each month up to 25% of the total tax liability.

Other Penalties

That’s pretty bad when you ad it all up, but the list of consequences goes on to include:

  • Penalties for failure to file state and local income tax withholding
  • Penalties due to unemployment insurance shortfalls
  • Worker’s compensation violations
  • Improper exclusion from benefit plans such as pension, retirement plans, health insurance, paid leave, severance pay, etc.

Here’s a long list of The Consequences of Misclassifying Your 1099 Contractors

Scared yet? You probably should be.

Worker misclassification is a serious issue and can cause significant financial hardship and has caused several businesses to close.

Here’s help

My book Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization can help clear a lot of confusion, but perhaps you want to discuss your particular situation in a private, individual phone consultation.

I offer phone consultations to help you determine if your homeschool organization’s workers are employees or independent contractors. The phone call will be followed up with an email containing a fact-based determination and information to help you take the next steps.

To request a consultation, please contact me. I’m happy to help and relieve any anxiety you have about this confusing topic.

Carol Topp, CPA

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Webinar on business failure in the homeschool market

I am always saddened to hear about business failure in the homeschool market. I feel pain for the business owner, their employees and their customers.

  • How can this happen?
  • Can it be avoided?
  • What can a customer do if they have lost a lot of money?
  • What lessons can a homeschool business or homeschool co-op learn from others’ failures?
  • Are homeschool teachers and tutors at risk?

I’m going to answer all these questions and more during a live webinar hosted by Tammy Moore of Virtual Homeschool Group 

Webinar: Business Failures in the Homeschool Marketplace

 

Date: Saturday January 14, 2017

Time: 2:00 pm ET, 1:00 pm CT, 12 noon MT and 11:00 am PT. The webinar will last about 60 minutes.

Cost: Free

Topics:

  • For parents: How can parents avoid losing money?
  • For homeschool businesses and nonprofits: Could it happen to us?
  •  IRS audits, penalties and safe harbor provisions
  • Worker Classification: General guidelines and possible solutions
  • For homeschool teachers and tutors: Are you at risk?

Join the webinar  here

You’ll need to download the webinar application on your computer or mobile device before the webinar begins.

or phone in on Saturday January 14 at 2 pm ET/1 pm CT (only audio)

Call-in number: 571-392-7703

Participant PIN: 375 427 129 85

 

Here’s a handout I created.

I hope many of you will join me on Saturday January 14, 2017 to discuss this very important and timely issue.

Carol Topp, CPA

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Are Classical Conversations tutors employees or independent contractors?

Hi Carol,
I am a part of a Classical Conversations community with a Foundations/Essentials director. The Foundations/Essentials directors hire tutors to run the classrooms on community day.

I am concerned that the  tutors are being treated as employees even though they are paid as independent contractors. Can a Foundations director hire tutors as independent contractors and still be able to specify what time they start, what material to cover and for how long they are to cover it, require training in the summer and training every 6 weeks of class etc?

Would a contract help? It seems like the contract could call the tutor an independent contractor but the Director could still treat them like employees.

This is hugely concerning and our campus wants to operate in a legal way. We are considering hiring a lawyer to help us understand all this. Is the lawyer the way to go? Or would you be able to advise on how to handle this?

We want to be legal and try to sort out truth in this whole legal situation.

Thank you for your time,

Katherine

 

Katherine,

Thank you for contacting me. I have been talking to several Classical Conversation (CC) Directors and tutors about worker classification. It’s a confusing and complex topic!

Factors: control and key activity

The question of whether CC tutors are independent contractors (IC) or employees is not cut and dried, nor the same for every CC community. There are many factors to consider including some you mentioned such as training, specific time and place to work, the curriculum to use, etc.

Two factors to consider are: the amount of control and if the tutors are providing a key activity of the business. (By the way, these factors of control and providing a key activity apply to all types of homeschool groups, not just Classical Conversations.) Some homeschool organizations may control their tutors so much that they treat them like employees, while others may allow more freedom and could be properly classified as ICs. Some homeschool organizations may depend heavily on the tutors’ services as the key activity of the business, while other homeschool groups may not use tutors as the key activity because they rely on volunteer parents to teach their classes.

Would a contract help?

You asked, “Would a contract help? It seems like the contract could call the tutor an independent contractor but the Director could still treat them like employees.”

You’ve hit the nail on the heard. Having a contract is not assurance that a tutor is an independent contractor; how they are treated carries more weight in determining proper worker classification.

Worker Classification Determination

You asked, “Is the lawyer the way to go?  Or would you be able to advise on how to handle this?

I can make a fact-based worker classification determination. In this determination, I substantiate my opinion based on all the facts, not just the few you mentioned, and court cases involving worker classification.


Additionally, I also just updated  my book Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization. It explains both the current criteria the IRS uses and the criteria they have used in the past to determine independent contractor or employee status.

 

 

 

 

You could, of course, convert all your tutors to employees, and sleep better at night! I can explain the steps you’ll need to take.  It will be more paperwork and more expense, but you won’t worry about an IRS investigation on worker status.

Carol Topp, CPA

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Top 10 blog posts of 2016

 

Here is a round up of the top 10 most important blog posts from HomeschoolCPA in 2016.

 

Many of them have to do with paying workers in a homeschool organization, probably because I was asked a lot of questions about paying volunteers, giving discounts in stead of paying teachers and the difference between employees and independent contractors.

I also spent a lot of time in 2016 researching and writing Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization and my blog posts reflect what I was learning.

Compensation to homeschool board members is taxable income

Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization updated book is ready!

Are homeschool co-op tuition discounts taxable income? Probably!

Can you discount a homeschool co-op class in lieu of paying the teacher?

How you pay your homeschool teachers could affect the property tax exemption for your host church

Can a homeschool group just get together without having to report to the IRS?

Adding religious purpose to bylaws and Articles

Use Quickbooks online for free

Are discounts to homeschool board members taxable compensation?

How the IRS defines a school

I wonder what 2017 will bring in the world of homeschool organizations!

Sign up for my email list to be kept up to date on the questions homeschool leaders are asking.

P.S. Subscribers to my email list get freebies, discounts and special reports I share only with them.

Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com

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Do the new overtime rules affect homeschool groups?

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The US Department of Labor (DOL) proposed new rules about paying workers overtime. Several people have asked me if homeschool organizations have to follow these new rules.

My answer is that yes, in general, homeschool organization whether nonprofit organizations or for-profit businesses have to follow the rules in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regarding minimum wage and overtime.

But occasionally, there are exceptions, so read on!

New Overtime Rules

The new overtime rules were supposed to take effect December 1, 2016. (They been held up by an injunction by a federal judge). The new proposed rules raise the threshold for when an employee is exempt from getting paid overtime. If your employee makes less than $47,476/year, you must pay them overtime at time-and-a-half when they work more than 40 hours a week. The threshold used to be only $23,660/year, so this was a big jump. Under the new proposed rule many more workers are eligible for overtime.

The impact on nonprofits and churches of paying overtime could be huge since many of their employees put in more than 40 hours a week. They work long hours because they are passionate about their mission. Fortunately, the Department of Labor has an exception to the FLSA for nonprofit organizations.

Exceptions to New OT Rule for Nonprofit Organizations

Here’s an except from”Overtime Final Rule and the Non-Profit Sector” a paper from the US Department of Labor available at https://www.dol.gov/sites/default/files/overtime-nonprofit.pdf

the FLSA applies to businesses with annual sales or business of at least $500,000. For a non-profit, enterprise coverage applies only to the activities performed for a business purpose (such as operating a gift shop or providing veterinary services for a fee); it does not apply to the organization’s charitable activities that are not in substantial competition with other businesses. Income from contributions, membership fees, many dues, and donations (cash or non-cash) used for charitable activities are not counted toward the $500,000 threshold.

Let me unpack that for you.

If your nonprofit has less than $500,000 in “business” income (that does not count your contributions, membership fees or dues), then your organization is not covered under FLSA and you do not need to comply with the overtime rules.

Here’s an example from a longer DOL document, “Guidance for Non-Profit Organizations on Paying Overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act.” available at https://www.dol.gov/whd/overtime/final2016/nonprofit-guidance.pdf

A non-profit animal shelter provides free veterinary care, animal adoption services, and shelter for homeless animals. Even if the shelter takes in over $500,000 in donations in a given year, because the shelter engages only in charitable activities that do not have a business purpose, employees of the animal shelter are not covered on an enterprise basis.

By “not covered on an enterprise basis,” the DoL means the FLSA does not cover the workers and they are not entitled to overtime.

A lot of homeschool nonprofit organizations just breathed a sigh of relief. They rarely have business income and it almost never exceeds $500,000, so they do not have to pay their employees overtime.

Warning: It’s not as simple as it seems!

This issue is not as simple as saying, “My nonprofit doesn’t have $500,000 income, let alone “business” income, so we don’t have to pay any employee overtime.”

I urge you to read the DoL documents I mentioned above and consult with an experienced professional familiar with employee laws and the Fair Labor Standards Act in particular.

The Kentucky Nonprofit Network offers a helpful 9-page report on steps to take if your nonprofit is affected by the new overtime rules (when and if they go into effect).

Carol Topp, CPA

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What’s inside the new Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization book?

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I’ve updated my book Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization

It’s got a new cover. It’s grown from 20 to 130 pages, has an index, and a a bunch of sample agreements you can use with your independent contractors.
Here’s what you’ll find inside:

 

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Can You Pay a Volunteer?

Chapter 2: Paying Board Members and Other Leaders

Chapter 3: Employee or Independent Contractor? Worker Classification

Chapter 4: Guidelines for Hiring Independent Contractors

Chapter 5: Tax Forms for Independent Contractors

Chapter 6: Payroll Taxes for Employers

Chapter 7: Tax Forms for Employers

Chapter 8: Sample Independent Contractor Agreements (I include 5 samples agreements: 3 for teachers, one for a speaker and one for other contractors like a bookkeeper)

Chapter 9: Resources

About the Author

Index

Does any of that sound helpful to your homeschool organization?
The book  in paperback will be available November 1.
The ebook version will be available in a few more weeks.
If you sign up for my email list, you will be sent a coupon code for 20% off the paperback price of $9.95.
Carol Topp, CPA

Parents paying homeschool teachers is getting cumbersome

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Hello Carol,

I am the Executive Director of a 501(c)3 non-profit homeschool co-op. We have always had all parents pay teachers directly for classes. Of course the number of checks written by members each semester,and unraveling the missing/lost checks each semester along with the myriad of other payment mysteries has prompted to us to wonder if we can have all parents submit the teacher payments to our group, then we cut a check to each teacher.

We would essentially gather all the money and then direct it to each teacher. One check from each parent for all their children’s classes, and one check to each teacher for all the classes they are teaching.

Can we do this?

Holly

Holly,

Thank you for contacting me.

Yes, you can collect all the payments from parents and then pay the teachers, but there are some things to warn you about:

1. Managing more money means you need good accounting software (links to some of my blog posts with software recommendations), one that can invoice parents and track who has paid and who still owes.

2. Additionally, since you have a lot more income, you may have crossed an IRS threshold and now need to be filing the annual Form 990 or 990-EZ (YouTube video explaining which form you need to file).

3. Worker classification. You need to determine if the teachers are employees or  Independent Contractors (opens a blog post series on worker status). This is not an easy determination to make. You need to consider many factors.

I’m in the process of updating my book, Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization. I hope to have it ready by November 1, 2016.

I’ll also be offering a consultation service to help homeschool groups make a decision about employee or independent contractor status.

Sign up for my email list to be notified when the book and worker determination consultations will be available.

Carol Topp, CPA

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Paying Workers update will be available November 1

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I’m working hard at getting my book Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization updated. It’s grown from a 20 page ebook, to a 130 page paperback (ebook version will be available soon as well).

Here’s the Table of Contents:

Chapter 1: Can You Pay a Volunteer?
Chapter 2: Paying Board Members and Other Leaders
Chapter 3: Employee or Independent Contractor? Worker Classification
Chapter 4: Guidelines for Hiring Independent Contractors
Chapter 5: Tax Forms for Independent Contractors
Chapter 6: Payroll Taxes for Employers
Chapter 7: Tax Forms for Employers
Chapter 8: Sample Independent Contractor Agreements
Chapter 9: Resources

 

The book is in the editing phase now and I hope it will be ready for sale by November 1st, 2016.

I know that can’t happen quickly enough for some of you! Just this week I received two emails from homeschool leaders asking if they are paying their teachers correctly.

I will also be offering a service to help assist homeschool leaders to make worker determinations. It will be a phone consultation followed up my helpful guidance on the next steps to take.

Be sure to sign up for my email list so you will be notified when the book is ready and when I will be offering worker determination consultations.

Carol Topp, CPA