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We, The Independent Contractors...

Forget about it. You have no rights.

You may no longer be an employee of someone else's company, but that doesn't mean you no longer work for others. Many homebased business owners work as independent contractors for other businesses or organizations, providing expertise on short- or long-term projects. But what happens if the relationships you develop within those other companies go sour? What if you become a victim of racial or sexual harassment? What if you believe the people who hired you have discriminated against you in ways they couldn't discriminate against standard employees? The rules of the game are different for independent contractors.

Consider a case decided in 1997 by California's Court of Appeals. A recreational facility declined to renew the contract of its dance program director, a homebased independent contractor. The dance director suspected the termination was racially motivated, because she'd complained her freelance instructors were being taunted by the staff about working for a white woman. Upset, she sued over illegal discrimination. She never had a chance to present her evidence in court, however, because the trial court noted that the state and federal laws against racial discrimination were designed to protect employees--not independent contractors. The state Court of Appeals agreed. However pernicious racial discrimination might be, the judges observed, the law simply doesn't allow such claims by independent contractors.

That fact doesn't bother Stanley Janusz, a homebased computer consultant in Island Heights, New Jersey. A former product-safety manager with Atotech USA Inc., Janusz left the company five years ago to launch JANUS Environmental Management Inc., which now encompasses both his own computer services and wife Maria's medical transcription business. "When you leave the world of being an employee, you lose that protection," Janusz says. "At the same time, you gain more control over your life. If you see something you don't like, you can leave." He notes that, according to the IRS guidelines, an independent contractor shouldn't work for only one company. Having more than one source of revenue allows the independent contractor to stay in business should one contract go bad. As Janusz points out, "You can terminate the contract as easily as they can."

Freelance writer Jane Easter Bahls specializes in business and legal topics.

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