Many employers in Maine and across the country engage in the practice of misclassifying employees as independent contractors. Misclassification is sometimes called “1099’ing” because of the 1099 tax form independent contractors receive instead of a W-2 form. While misclassification is illegal, it can save employers as much as 30% in payroll and related taxes that they would have to pay if they correctly classified their workers as employees. Employees who are misclassified as independent contractors can miss out on workers compensation insurance, unemployment insurance, fair pay, and other workplace protections.
The National Employment Law Project (NELP) has published a report which identifies the steps various states have taken in the past year to combat the problem of misclassification. The report identifies a new section of Maine’s Workers Compensation Act which sets special rules for when employers can classify workers in the trucking and messenger service industries as independent contractors. Under this statute, workers in these industries are presumed to be employees and employers can only classify them as independent contractors if they can satisfy specific criteria. To illustrate, under this statute, if a worker is not covered by his employer’s workers compensation insurance, and he does not own or lease the vehicle he uses for work, his employer cannot classify him as an independent contractor.
In addition to legislative action, the NELP report identifies some states that have stepped up enforcement of laws already on the books. For instance, in the past year, Massachusetts’ Joint Task Force on the Underground Economy and Employee Misclassification has recovered nearly $6.5 million through its enforcement efforts–which included $2 million in unpaid unemployment insurance taxes. Recently, there have been reports of rising unemployment insurance tax rates in Maine. Increased enforcement actions against employers who misclassify their workers as independent contractors could help eliminate the need to raise these tax rates. If employers who are violating the law are forced to pay the taxes that the law requires them to pay, the rates can be lower for all employers.