The owner of a Skokie-based maid service was ordered to pay approximately $500,000 after it was discovered that she was classifying her employees as “independent contractors” in order to avoid paying minimum wage and overtime to the maids who worked for her.

Many people, including employers, use the term “independent contractor” without knowing what it actually means. Some employers use it strategically to deliberately avoid paying the higher costs of hiring an employee. Regardless, it’s not what the employer labels you but rather what the law says that matters.

The law focuses on how much control your boss has over you in determining your classification as employee vs. independent contractor. An employer cannot choose. The key is how much control your employer has over you and your work. More control means you’re more likely to be an employee. If your employer doesn’t tell you when or how to do your job, doesn’t provide you with equipment or supplies, then you might be an independent contractor. The line is fuzzy, so check with an employment attorney if you’re unsure.

In the maid service case, the employer labeled its workers as independent contractors, had them fill out independent contractor applications and sign an independent contractor contract. However, the judge in the case said that the reality mattered more, which was that the employer had significant control over the workers, regardless of what the paperwork said.

In this case, the employer chose which clients the employees worked for, dictated when the work was done, and even told them how to do their work. The workers did not provide their own equipment or supplies. What’s more is that the maids were required to sign a non-compete agreement.

All of this added up to the fact that the workers were employees. The judge said that the employer couldn’t have it both ways – calling her workers independent contractors, which implies they can work elsewhere, but then telling them they can’t work for other maid services in the area.

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By Michael Helfand