People Smartz

If you employ Independent Contractors - You Need to Read This!

Tony Perkins - Monday, February 06, 2012

In October 2009, I wrote a blog article regarding the increasing risk businesses were putting themselves under when utilising independent contractors in their business.This article was titled Independent Contractors - Benefit or Risk to Your Business? and you can read it again by clicking on the link - I strongly recommend you do.

An independent contractor is someone who is self-employed and contracts his or her services to clients - most often other businesses.

Unfortunately, over the years a number of employers have used this as an avenue to avoid their obligations to their employees in respect to things like accruals, superannuation and other entitlements.  These type of arrangements are called "Sham Contracts".

There has been a very strong push against Sham Contracting by the Fair Work Ombudsman over the last 12 months.  In particular, these investigations have revolved around three industries - cleaning, hair and beauty and call centres.

These audits found that 23% of businesses had "mis-classified" employees as independent contractors.  In other words - nearly a quarter of those companies audited were mis-classifying employees as independent contractors.

A recent experience of company I know is an example of how these laws can effect a business:

About this time last year, I met with a gentleman who had started a commercial cleaning company. Based on common practice in the industry, he had engaged a good number of independent contractors to service his growing client base.

Now, he had developed a business model designed around several main "objectives" including high cleaning standards, good quality cleaning products and a highly organised workforce.

The problem was that these "objectives" also defined the relationship he had with his "independent contractors".

Over the past 12 months, he has worked hard to grow his business.  During this time, he had also worked, with the aid of a specialist company, to set up his independent contractor arrangements and bring them within the requirements of the legislation.

During that period he has also been audited by the Fair Work Ombudsman and successfully negotiated their investigation.  

However, he was advised several weeks ago by the company assisting him that they could not continue to assist him (I should point out for very legitimate reasons with no fault on him or his company).

The result was that he could not continue to run his company on the model he had developed - utilising independent contractors.

He was faced with a choice - continue to operate with independent contractors and face potential issues with the law or move his team to an employment arrangement - given his experience with the Fair Work Ombudsman, he decided to abide by the law.

Unfortunately, when he spoke to his independent contractors, they were not willing to move to an employment relationship. 

This left him with only one option - to wind back his business to the point where the work could be handled by himself and his partner.

So the end result - a good number of people are now out of work, a number of businesses are now looking for a new cleaning company and a once thriving, growing business is now "diminishing" in size and operations.

This story highlights how the wrong employment structure can affect your business.  It was never the intention of the Fair Work Ombudsman's activities to create this situation - this is the result of having the wrong structure operating in the first place.

My recommendations from October 2010 still have a strong meaning now and I recommend you consider them in your business: 

"I strongly recommend to my clients before entering into independent contractors arrangements that they closely review the relationship they are forming.  While the benefits of utilising independent contractors are significant, if not structured properly, they also introduce an element of risk to the business.

People Smartz is able to assist businesses with the process of employing independent contractors.  If you have, or are considering, independent contractors in your business - contact us today.

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