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We, The Independent Contractors... Forget about it. You have no rights.

By Jane Easter Bahls

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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

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

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

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