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Publication 15

2. Who Are Employees?(p11)

Generally, employees are defined either under common law or under statutes for certain situations. See Publication 15-A for details on statutory employees and nonemployees.

Employee status under common law.(p11)

Generally, a worker who performs services for you is your employee if you have the right to control what will be done and how it will be done. This is so even when you give the employee freedom of action. What matters is that you have the right to control the details of how the services are performed. See Publication 15-A for more information on how to determine whether an individual providing services is an independent contractor or an employee.
Generally, people in business for themselves are not employees. For example, doctors, lawyers, veterinarians, and others in an independent trade in which they offer their services to the public are usually not employees. However, if the business is incorporated, corporate officers who work in the business are employees of the corporation.
If an employer-employee relationship exists, it does not matter what it is called. The employee may be called an agent or independent contractor. It also does not matter how payments are measured or paid, what they are called, or if the employee works full or part time.

Statutory employees.(p11)

If someone who works for you is not an employee under the common law rules discussed earlier, do not withhold federal income tax from his or her pay, unless backup withholding applies. Although the following persons may not be common law employees, they are considered employees by statute for social security, Medicare, and FUTA tax purposes under certain conditions.

Statutory nonemployees.(p11)

Direct sellers, qualified real estate agents, and certain companion sitters are, by law, considered nonemployees. They are generally treated as self-employed for all federal tax purposes, including income and employment taxes.

H-2A agricultural workers.(p11)

On Form W-2, do not check box 13 (Statutory employee), as H-2A workers are not statutory employees.

Treating employees as nonemployees.(p11)

You will generally be liable for social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax if you do not deduct and withhold these taxes because you treated an employee as a nonemployee. You may be able to calculate your liability using special section 3509 rates for the employee share of social security and Medicare taxes and the federal income tax withholding. The applicable rates depend on whether you filed required Forms 1099. You cannot recover the employee share of social security, or Medicare tax, or income tax withholding from the employee if the tax is paid under section 3509. You are liable for the income tax withholding regardless of whether the employee paid income tax on the wages. You continue to owe the full employer share of social security and Medicare taxes. The employee remains liable for the employee share of social security and Medicare taxes. See Internal Revenue Code section 3509 for details. Also see the Instructions for Form 941-X.
Section 3509 rates are not available if you intentionally disregard the requirement to withhold taxes from the employee or if you withheld income taxes but not social security or Medicare taxes. Section 3509 is not available for reclassifying statutory employees. See Statutory employees, earlier in this section.
If the employer issued required information returns, the section 3509 rates are:
If the employer did not issue required information returns, the section 3509 rates are:
Relief provisions.(p12)
If you have a reasonable basis for not treating a worker as an employee, you may be relieved from having to pay employment taxes for that worker. To get this relief, you must file all required federal tax returns, including information returns, on a basis consistent with your treatment of the worker. You (or your predecessor) must not have treated any worker holding a substantially similar position as an employee for any periods beginning after 1977. See Publication 1976, Do You Qualify for Relief Under Section 530.

IRS help.(p12)

If you want the IRS to determine whether a worker is an employee, file Form SS-8, Determination of Worker Status for Purposes of Federal Employment Taxes and Income Tax Withholding.

Voluntary Classification Settlement Program (VCSP).(p12)

Employers who are currently treating their workers (or a class or group of workers) as independent contractors or other nonemployees and want to voluntarily reclassify their workers as employees for future tax periods may be eligible to participate in the VCSP if certain requirements are met. To apply, use Form 8952, Application for Voluntary Classification Settlement Program (VCSP). For more information visit and enter "VCSP" in the search box.

Husband-Wife Business(p12)

If you and your spouse jointly own and operate a business and share in the profits and losses, you are partners in a partnership, whether or not you have a formal partnership agreement. See Publication 541, Partnerships, for more details. The partnership is considered the employer of any employees, and is liable for any employment taxes due on wages paid to its employees.

Exception—Qualified joint venture.(p12)

For tax years beginning after December 31, 2006, the Small Business and Work Opportunity Tax Act of 2007 (Public Law 110-28) provides that a "qualified joint venture," whose only members are a husband and a wife filing a joint income tax return, can elect not to be treated as a partnership for federal tax purposes. A qualified joint venture conducts a trade or business where:
To make the election, all items of income, gain, loss, deduction, and credit must be divided between the spouses, in accordance with each spouse's interest in the venture, and reported on separate Schedules C or F as sole proprietors. Each spouse must also file a separate Schedule SE to pay self-employment taxes, as applicable.
Spouses using the qualified joint venture rules are treated as sole proprietors for federal tax purposes and generally do not need an EIN. If employment taxes are owed by the qualified joint venture, either spouse may report and pay the employment taxes due on the wages paid to the employees using the EIN of that spouse's sole proprietorship. Generally, filing as a qualified joint venture will not increase the spouses' total tax owed on the joint income tax return. However, it gives each spouse credit for social security earnings on which retirement benefits are based and for Medicare coverage without filing a partnership return.
Note. If your spouse is your employee, not your partner, you must pay social security and Medicare taxes for him or her. For more information on qualified joint ventures, visit, enter "qualified joint venture" in the search box, and then select Election for Husband and Wife Unincorporated Businesses.

Exception—Community income.(p12)

If you and your spouse wholly own an unincorporated business as community property under the community property laws of a state, foreign country, or U.S. possession, you can treat the business either as a sole proprietorship (of the spouse who carried on the business) or a partnership. You may still make an election to be taxed as a qualified joint venture instead of a partnership. See Exception—Qualified joint venture above.