As artists, we are sometimes hired to participate in a single show, write one article or short story, or contribute a single piece. Other times, we are hired to work for people on a permanent or semi-permanent basis. One of the first questions anyone offering you work should be asked is, “Are you hiring me as an independent artist (or whatever your second career might be), or are you hiring me as an employee?
If you are hired as an independent artist, you do not have a job working for that employer. They are a client of your business as an independent artist. You are responsible for paying your own taxes.
This means you are responsible for deducting 20-30% of each check you get and setting it aside. This is the amount of money you will need for your taxes. At the end of the year, your client will give you a copy of the 1099 tax form they also submitted to the IRS. When you file your taxes, you will need an additional $100 for the fee most tax preparation companies charge to file your taxes as an independent business person. You can’t just ignore this form. Once you get the form, the other copy is already on file with the IRS.
If you are hired as an employee, you have a job working for that company or organization. Your new employer is responsible for taking taxes out of your paycheck.
Make sure you fill out a W-4 form. This allows the employer to take taxes out of your check. You do not have to file a 1099 form at the end of the year, unless you do additional work outside the job. Your employer will give you a W-2 form at the end of the year. Many tax preparation companies offer free online tax filing for those who only have a W-2 form and meet certain income requirements. If you are not given a W-4 form when they hire you, then you do not have a job with the company.
Employees’ schedules are controlled by their employers.
Once you start working as someone’s employee, they have every right to tell you what days and times you need to show up for work. They must follow labor laws in terms of breaks and lunch hours, but within the law, they have the right to set limits. You can be fired for showing up late, taking a long lunch without permission, or taking fifteen minute breaks when you are scheduled for ten.
Independent artists control their own schedule.
Treating an independent contractor as an employee is illegal. The client is not allowed to ask you to punch a clock or come in at a certain time. This doesn’t mean you will only do work that is not time sensitive. If you agree to come in at ten a.m. and spend the afternoon working on the company’s web site as an independent contractor, you still need to show up and stay there. They can’t fire you if you don’t, but they can cancel your project. You will still be in business as a consultant, but you’ll be down a paying client.
Employees must adhere to staff expectations.
Dress codes and day to day expectations can be set by employers. If everyone has to wear a blue shirt, you have to wear one too. If the whole staff pitches in to answer the phone or clean the bathroom, you have to do it too. You are part of the company.
Independent workers are only there for the project they are working on.
If you are there setting up the computer system, you are not there to answer the phone. If you are there to write for them, it is not your job to mop the break room floor. The only work you should be asked to do as an independent worker is that which is outlined in your written agreement. Again, treating an independent contractor (another name for freelance worker) as an employee is illegal. Anyone who tries to do this is guilty of tax fraud.
Employees get perks and benefits.
Perks and benefits will vary by job of course, but as an employee, you may be offered anything from health insurance and retirement savings programs to gym memberships, free food in the break room, and discounts at partner businesses. You can expect to be included on teams or retreats offered to people at your level and in your department.
Independent artists do not get perks and benefits.
Health insurance and savings are entirely your responsibility as an independent worker. As for the little things, the employer may extend the offers to you if they wish, but never assume you are welcome to the employee lounge, or that you will be invited along on a staff retreat. You are not staff, and cannot expect to be treated like a staff member.
Which type of work should you do?
There is no one answer to this question. If you are working as part of your art career, you will want to add paying customers and clients to your business as an independent artist. Those who need to supplement their income with a semi- guaranteed paycheck will want to work as someone’s employee.