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I have been working full-time as a Software Developer (Web and Mobile) for a Canadian tech startup. It is my first job after graduating from university. The pay is well below the average but I am fine with it because of other reasons.

The 6 month contract I signed (5 months ago) was as an Independent Contractor but I have been working, expected to work like, and treated as a full time employee. By this I mean I have a designated work area, have been given a second monitor, mouse etc. I also am expected to keep track of my 40 hours on a shared Google Calendar which my direct supervisor monitors.

I have three questions:

  1. Is this a normal practice?

  2. When I renew the contract at the end of this month, I will be asked to sign a new contract at a slightly higher rate but still as an Independent Contractor. IF I leave the company 3 weeks after signing this new contract to pursue grad school, would I be risking burned bridges to the point where this company won't give me a good reference later on?

  3. What is the best way to ask this startup to let me continue as a REAL independent contractor? Where I get the task finished on my own time w/o having to work in office 9-5 everyday.

Note that the contract states that the company can terminate my contract immediately w/o cause and that I can terminate the contract with 14 day notice.

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    It depends on location. Some of the things you mentioned are considered no-no's in the United States when hiring contractors: sba.gov/blogs/… – user8365 Jul 22 '16 at 1:00
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    What exactly do you think you would be different if you were a 'real' independent contractor? – DJClayworth Jul 22 '16 at 3:37
  • @DJClayworth my monthly costs would be lower because I wouldn't have to travel to and from work. Would add 15 hours to my week. Would also allow me to pursue grad school full-time because I know I can get the work done if this was part-time job. – player87 Jul 22 '16 at 6:41
  • @DJClayworth and possibly tax tho depends on how Canada treats self employed – Neuromancer May 11 '18 at 19:53
  • @player87 You misunderstand what 'real independent contractor' means. Whether you are allowed to work from home, whether you are allowed to work part time, are a function of the contract you sign, not how 'real' your independent contractor status is. Some companies allow their employees to work from home, or allow them to go to grad school. – DJClayworth May 11 '18 at 21:37
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I have two questions:

You asked three questions! :-)

Is this a normal practice?

It happens all the time. It might not always adhere strictly to local employment laws, but still - it happens all the time.

When I renew the contract at the end of this month, I will be asked to sign a new contract at a slightly higher rate but still as an Independent Contractor. IF I leave the company 3 weeks after signing this new contract to pursue grad school, would I be risking burned bridges to the point where this company won't give me a good reference later on?

Of course.

But why would you renew the contract only to leave 3 weeks later? That doesn't make much sense, and of course the company might be unhappy with that.

If you want a great reference, don't do that. If you don't care about the burned bridges or references, you get to choose what you want to do.

What is the best way to ask this startup to let me continue as a REAL independent contractor? Where I get the task finished on my own time w/o having to work in office 9-5 everyday.

I'm not sure it matters if you plan to leave in 3 weeks after working one way for 6 months. But if it does - just ask for what you want.

I'm not sure I'd expect a complete change of their contractor policies, but if it's important to you, the only way it could happen is by asking for it.

Make sure you are specific in what you want to do. Make sure you propose how you will measure completion of your assigned tasks. Make sure you express where you intend to work, and for how long.

Then be prepared with your response if the answer is "No".

  • Hah, yes three indeed ... I was really worried when I asked that because of tax related issues I hadn't considered before. Basically, my goal is to ask this company to let me work part-time. That's why I had thought about renewing the contract but what you said actually makes more sense. Thank you! – player87 Jul 22 '16 at 7:35
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It's far from unusual for the company to expect a contractor to work specific hours on site. If that isn't what you want you can turn down contracts structured that way ... But of course that cuts into your income unless you have enough demand from other clients.

You need to decide whether this is worth risking losing the contract over.

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    Depends on the location. A company may expect a contractor to work specific hours, but taking too much control is a sign that this person is expected to perform as an employee and should be compensated like one. sba.gov/blogs/… – user8365 Jul 22 '16 at 0:59
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You are not a contractor. You are a contract employee. For contract employees, this is a normal practice.

However, there are various laws (depending on your jurisdiction) that prevent contract employees from being indefinitely on contract status without the benefits of traditional employees.

To be a contractor, you would likely be handled differently:

  • You would be given specific jobs to do. The methods and tools you use would be at your discretion, not theirs.
  • You would be paid by the job, not by the hours worked. You would be paid at certain milestones and at project completion, as determined by your contract.
  • You would provide your own tools, and all appropriate insurance for your locality.

A lot of people who call themselves "contractors" are actually contract employees. I've been both. Being a contractor can be very lucrative, but also very risky. You may end up spending 400 hours on a project you bid with a belief you could do in 250, but you'll only get paid what you bid. Project scope and change order agreements become VERY important.

Unless you're really prepared to be a contractor, you're probably better off being a contract employee. The difference between the two is significant.

  • My contract clearly mentions me as an "independent contractor" so that would make me (according to the contract) an independent contractor. But as the question mentions, I am treated as a full-time employee. – player87 Jul 22 '16 at 7:04
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    What your contract mentions and what you are in fact, can be very different things. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck and gets treated like a duck, it is a duck no matter how often the company refers to it as a moose. – user53718 Jul 22 '16 at 9:40
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    The difference is not what you are called in the paper work but what you are promising to provide. For a true contractor per the answer above you have agreed to provide a specified product. For a contract employee all you have agreed to provide is X many hours of work. – Eric Johnson Jul 22 '16 at 11:43
  • I'm not sure that 'contractor' versus 'contract employee' is an actual distinction in Canada. Legally and for tax purposes the distinction is between 'contractor' and 'employee'. – DJClayworth Jul 22 '16 at 13:12
  • @EricJohnson indeed the contract signed specifies that I am to provide equipment and work where and when I feel like to provide a product. BUT, they've provided the equipment and they have determined that I work in office 9-5 (and more if the task requires). So while I pay taxes like an Independent Contractor in Canada, I work as an employee which means I can't actually take multiple contracts (because I no longer have the time to). – player87 Jul 24 '16 at 23:29

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