independent contractor

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Distinguished from employees, independent contractors are entities hired by employers to accomplish certain tasks but do not have the right of control over those entities. Independent contractors tend to have specialized skills or knowledge and work for many employers.

Under tort law, employers who hire independent contractors usually have no vicarious liabilities to independent contractors’ tortious acts. While the duties of certain conducts are non-delegable, employers will remain vicariously liable. These conducts include: (a) inherently dangerous activities, (b) duties arising out of a relationship with a specific plaintiff or the public, (c) duties to keep premises opened to the public in a reasonably safe condition of storekeepers or landowners to invitees, and (d) duties to comply with state safety statutes in a minority of jurisdictions.

In addition, employers may be liable for their own negligence in selecting independent contractors if they were negligent in hiring them. Employers are also liable for any physical harm caused by any act committed by independent contractors pursuant to orders or directions negligently given by employers.

Under tax law, independent contractors must pay their own Social Security and Medicare taxes, while employers generally pay for employees.

The U.S. Department of Labor has an employee/independent contractor comparison chart here.

[Last updated in March of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]