What’s the difference between an independent contractor and an employee? Employment law attorney Andrea Downing explains why worker classification is so important on this week’s FAQ Friday.

Independent contractors:

-Have control over the services they provide

-Have control over their own schedule, hours and vacation

-Often receive payment through a flat fee rather than a wage

-Report to different work sites and supervisors

-Use their own equipment

Employees:

-Have their work directed and controlled

-Have set schedule, hours and vacation

-Receive regular wages

-Report to the same work site and supervisors

-Use equipment supplied by their employer

Downing explains, “If you’re an employee instead of an independent contractor, you could be entitled to overtime instead of straight time, as well as benefits. Additionally, your employer could be responsible for making payments to the federal and state government on your behalf in the future.”

Regardless of your worker classification, it’s a good idea to keep your own records. “That way if there ever is a question about who you work for or how long you’ve worked for them, you have something you’ve prepared that you can rely on,” says Downing. “And if there’s a question about whether or not you are an employee, you can rely on those records to show your entitlement to overtime.”

The power of numbers can help resolve the matter.

You might also want to consider whether or not there are coworkers who are interested in seeking employee status with you. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires employers to pay minimum wages and in certain circumstances overtime, workers are allowed to bring a case together with their coworkers and even reach into the employer’s records to collect names, addresses, and phone numbers of past employees who may also be interested in seeking employee status.

Consult an attorney to fully understand the situation.

If you realize that you may be an employee instead of an independent contractor, you should consult an attorney so you know what your rights are. “That way, you know the best way to approach the employer or person you’ve been working for, the proper documents to show them, and what specifically to ask for,” explains Downing.