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Question added to topic Legal Basics For StartupsJanuary 22, 2013

Do I Owe Subcontractors Health Insurance?

I'm a self-employed sole proprietor (doing consulting/contract work) and I am thinking about hiring one or two subcontractors this year. A friend of mine told me that if I do that, I'll be liable for providing them health coverage. I can't imagine that being true. He also told me that each one of my clients is responsible for providing me with health care, despite the fact that I'm already covered by my husband's plan. I think all these allegations are outrageous, but he's insisting they are true. Any insights?

Your friend is wrong on both counts. One of the benefits of working for yourself is the independence you gain to work as you please. But because you are not an employee, no one owes you anything. Not even health care. That’s one of the reasons that corporations like to hire independent contractors -- precisely because they DON’T have all of the financial, tax and benefits obligations that they do for their employees. Flip that coin over, and the same rules apply. If you are doing the hiring and you hire other independent providers, you do not need to provide them with health insurance, or any other benefits for that matter.

Here’s where you need to be careful: You must be absolutely clear that you are hiring an independent business owner/independent company as your subcontractor. One way you can gauge the "independence" of a subcontractor is by whether they have other clients (and are not moonlighting from their current job, or "in transition"). Otherwise, you could be deemed to have hired a part-time employee instead of an independent contractor, which can send you "down the rabbit hole." If the state unemployment, disability, or workers' compensation authorities see that you’ve hired a part-time employee without having the proper employee insurances in place, you can get hit with penalties and interest.

Nina L. Kaufman, Esq. is an award-winning New York City attorney, edutainer and author. Under her Ask The Business Lawyer brand, she reaches thousands of entrepreneurs and small business owners with her legal services, professional speaking, information products, and LexAppeal weekly ezine. She also writes the Making It Legal blog.

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