Based in Chicago, Illinois, The Freelance Beat is a blog exploring the triumphs and challenges that freelance journalists encounter in their early and mid-careers.

Are You a Employee or a Contractor?

Are You a Employee or a Contractor?

I’ve been keeping my eye out for the right full-time job for some time. If I find a job with great compensation, culture and growth opportunities, I’d be a happy writer. But until then, I’m fairly happy as a freelance writer.

One of the reasons why I enjoy freelancing is my autonomy. I mostly work on news stories and content in which I’m genuinely interested. I no longer spend long mornings rushing to an office, cramming myself onto a crowded train and briskly bobbing and weaving Fast-and-Furious style between other pedestrians going to their respective workplaces. I work wherever I please, typically my home but also a local library. (You can’t spread out on the floor in an office without raising a few eyebrows).

These freedoms, the ability to work how, where, and on what projects you want, are important to a freelancer’s lifestyle. But they run contrary to how some clients are accustomed to dealing with workers. I started thinking about this recently, because a couple clients have offered me the opportunity to work in-office.

It was a harmless offer, not a requirement for the job, so I respectfully declined. But I thought about such suggestions again after a member of a freelancer group recommended that we watch an episode of Adam Ruins Everything, an educational Netflix series with a comedic twist during which the host of the show dissects common misconceptions. During the “Adam Ruins Work” episode, he touches on how companies misclassify and exploit independent contractors to avoid paying benefits to which they’re entitled.

There are certain warning signs to look for when dealing with potential clients who are looking to misuse contract workers. Here are a few to consider:

Business acumen

Sure, freelancers may have the technical skills to do a job, but are they behaving like business owners? That’s the question that courts will ask, writes Martin Conrad, an Entrepreneur contributor. Ordering materials, acquiring new clients and organizing their workload are signs that freelancers are, in fact, running like a typical business.


The work space offers I’ve received from clients seemed like kind gestures, rather than client work requirement. But if your clients tell you where, how and when to work, they may be misclassifying you as a contractor when you should be an employee. Uber is one of the most notable companies to be accused of using contractors to circumvent employee protections, but some experts say its more common than most people realize. If you’re a true independent contractor, you’ll have a great deal of control over the work you do, as Conrad points out.

Financial autonomy

Can you walk away from the project? Are you investing your own funding or equipment to complete the project, or is the company responsible for providing the resources for project completion? These are questions that the IRS may consider when determining whether a worker is a contractor or employee, writes Alan Gassman for Forbes. The more financial control and investment you have in the project, the more you look like an independent contractor to the authorities.

There are plenty of other factors that the Department of Labor and other agencies will consider when evaluating whether you’re misclassified. And, of course, I’m not a lawyer, so you should definitely seek counsel if you think your client is treating you too much like an employee.

Have you dealt with a client who overstepped their boundaries? How did you handle it? Share advice in the comments or email me at

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