Your best protection as an independent contractor is the contract itself. Write your own contract and customize it for each project. Make sure it states that you're an independent contractor who will be using your own equipment, setting your own hours within guidelines established by the hiring party, and that you'll be responsible for handling your own taxes. Specify where the work is to be performed, how often you need to report to the hiring company and, of course, when and how much you'll get paid.
The contract is a good place to add some legal protections. Who's liable if things go wrong? For instance, Beverley Williams, a public speaker and president of the American Association of Home-Based Businesses, states in her contracts that proofreading is the responsibility of the client. "I can't be responsible for proofing my own work," she says, noting that clients who hire her can either do their own proofing or pay her to hire a proofreader. "I've had cases [to do desktop publishing] where the client missed something, the material went to print with errors, and they wanted me to redo it."
Especially for major contracts, it's better to run your contract past your lawyer initially than to pay later to fix problems. For smaller contracts, your standard computer-customized contract should be enough, but consider having your lawyer look at the standard contract to make sure you've covered all your bases.
If you experience harassment or discrimination, remember that your status as an independent contractor precludes you from winning a lawsuit under employment laws, so you'd be better off not suing. "It could harm a business owner to sue a company when the protection is nonexistent," Schacher says, especially if word gets out you're an independent contractor who sues clients over perceived wrongs. "You could get blackballed right out of the industry." A better bet: Keep your head up, and look for other clients.