The IRS Announces Tax Relief for Misclassified Workers

December 2011

On September 21, 2011, The IRS announced a new voluntary compliance program that will allow employers to reclassify workers on a prospective basis with reduced penalties and back payroll taxes. This program, the Voluntary Classification Settlement Program (VCSP), was designed to limit fines for employers who had previously classified workers as independent contractors, rather than employees.

The Problem

There are many reasons that employees are misclassified as independent contractors. These include:

  • The worker is being hired on an infrequent or trial basis
  • The worker is being hired for a one time occurrence
  • The worker is being paid a flat fee
  • The worker chooses to be treated as an independent contractor
  • The employer believes it is too expensive to treat the worker as an employee

Unfortunately, the above excuses do not justify misclassifying workers. Correcting the misclassification is very costly, and can cause employers to continue on an incorrect path, rather than reclassifying workers.

The Solution

The IRS’s new program will allow an employer to properly classify a worker as an employee for future tax periods for a very small payment. The VCSP is offered to tax-exempt organizations, private employers, and government entities. To be qualified for the program, an applicant must:

  • Consistently have treated the workers in the past as nonemployees;

  • Have filed all 1099s for all independent contractors for the previous three years; and

  • Not currently be under audit by the IRS, the Department of Labor, or a state agency concerning the classification of the workers under consideration.

According to IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman, “This settlement program provides certainty and relief to employers in an important area. This is part of a wider effort to help taxpayers and businesses to help give them a fresh start with their tax obligations.”

How to Apply

Employers apply by filing Form 8952, Application for Voluntary Classification Settlement Program. The new form must be completed at least 60 days before the employer want to begin treating the workers as employees. The two-page form asks for basic information about the employer and a description of the workers. In addition, a calculation on the form assesses the amount due on the reclassification. This number is derived from the wages received during the most recent tax year and is the equivalent of roughly 1.3% of the wages paid, a huge savings over the previous options before this program. After the form is completed, the IRS will first verify the taxpayer’s eligibility. If eligible, the IRS will contact the taxpayer or its representative to complete the process. The IRS retains the right to reject any taxpayer from the VCSP, including taxpayers that otherwise meet the basic eligibility criteria.

A taxpayer participating in the VCSP agrees to treat the workers as employees for all future tax periods. In exchange, the taxpayer will pay approximately 1.3% of the wages paid to the reclassified workers for the past year. No interest or penalties will be due, and the employers will not be audited on payroll taxes related to these workers for prior years. Participating employers will, for the first three years under the program, be subject to a special six-year statute of limitations, rather than the usual three years that generally applies to payroll taxes.

To read more about the Voluntary Classification Settlement Program click here.

Re-enforcement

The Department of Labor, the IRS, and several state governments have launched a joint enforcement effort to identify and crack down on employers misclassifying employees as independent contractors. By collaborating and sharing information of suspected misclassification, the joint enforcement effort increases the risk of substantial fines.

In the past, a state agency would penalize the employer for misclassifying employees. Under the joint enforcement effort, the state will share the findings with the IRS and Labor Department. These agencies can then go after the employer for fines and penalties for federal wage violations.

The following states have already signed onto the joint enforcement effort: Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Utah, and Washington. New York and Illinois have also indicated they will join the effort.

If you have questions regarding the classification of your employees, feel free to contact Joe Aitchison at  The IRS Announces Tax Relief for Misclassified Workers or Larry Grudzien at  The IRS Announces Tax Relief for Misclassified Workers