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Independent Contractor Agreements: The Key Risks Most Business are Overlooking

Updated: 3 days ago

Running a business is all about managing risks. Engaging independent contractors is common in today's flexible work environment. However, some businesses often overlook the critical aspect of securing an Independent Contractor Agreement (ICA). In this blog, we'll explore the risks of not having this essential legal document when hiring contractors and why it's an imperative tool in protecting your business.

Employee or Independent Contractor?

Firstly, let’s look at the difference between employee and independent contractor.

Determining whether someone is an "employee" or an "independent contractor" isn't always straightforward. It depends on multiple factors, and there's no single criteria to decide. You cannot call someone a contractor, but for all intents and purposes they are an employee. Various elements are at play, including:

  • Is there an ICA signed by both parties.

  • Who has control over work-related aspects, like hours and location.

  • Who provides of tools and equipment.

  • Do they look like an employee to the public (e.g. uniform, works at employer’s premises, business cards) or whether they run their own business (e.g. own logo, work from own premises).

  • Payment structure (salary, wages, or task-based).

  • Who is responsible for work defects.

  • Who manages and pays tax, superannuation, and insurance.

  • Does the person have the right to work for other businesses.

  • Delegation or subcontracting capabilities.

  • Does the person receive any leave benefits.

  • Does the person have an ABN and do they submit invoices.

This isn't an exhaustive list, and the importance of each factor varies depending on the specific case. The key question to ask is whether the individual is operating within their own business's framework or as a representative of the business they work for.

However, two recent High Court decisions have helpfully clarified the position for businesses. Although it is important to consider and implement the above factors, the key factor in determining whether a person is an employee or contractor is whether there was an ICA in place.

You should consider an ICA as your first line of defence against a contractor being considered an employee. However the ICA needs to have very considered and specific wording around the nature of the relationship. If not you face a litany of risks, which we have outlined below.

The Key Risks of Not Having an ICA

Misclassifying an employee as an independent contractor and not having an ICA in place carries a large number of significant risks for businesses:

  1. Legal Liabilities and Penalties: Businesses may be subject to legal consequences, including penalties and fines, for failing to meet their obligations as employers, such as not paying employee entitlements like minimum wages, superannuation, and leave benefits. The penalties for each sham contracting breach can be substantial, reaching up to $12,600 for individuals and $63,000 for corporations.

  2. Back Payment of Entitlements: If an individual is misclassified as a contractor but should legally be considered an employee, they may be entitled to back payments for underpaid wages, superannuation, and leave entitlements. This could result in significant financial liabilities for the employer.

  3. Superannuation Contributions: Businesses are legally required to make superannuation contributions on behalf of their employees. Misclassifying employees as contractors can lead to underpayment of superannuation, and the employer may be required to make back payments, including interest, for these contributions.

  4. Workplace Health and Safety: Employees are afforded certain workplace health and safety protections, while independent contractors are responsible for their own safety. Misclassification can lead to inadequate workplace safety measures for affected workers, potentially resulting in legal and financial liabilities for the employer.

  5. Workers' Compensation: Injured employees are entitled to workers' compensation, while contractors generally aren't. Misclassifying employees as contractors can lead to a lack of workers' compensation coverage in case of work-related injuries, exposing the employer to potential legal action and liabilities.

  6. Unfair Dismissal Claims: Employees have access to unfair dismissal protections, including the right to challenge their termination. Contractors do not have these same rights. Misclassification can result in unfair dismissal claims that may cost the employer time and money.

  7. Tax Obligations: Businesses have tax obligations related to their employees, such as PAYG (Pay As You Go) tax withholding. Misclassifying employees as contractors can lead to issues with the ATO, including underpayment or non-payment of required taxes.

  8. Fair Work Act Breaches: The Fair Work Act 2009 sets out various legal obligations for employers concerning their employees. Misclassifying employees as contractors can lead to breaches of these obligations, resulting in lengthy investigations, fines and legal actions.

  9. Intellectual Property Ownership: Failure to address intellectual property (IP) ownership in an ICA can leave your business vulnerable. If the agreement doesn't specify that your business owns the IP created during the contract, the contractor will own it. This can jeopardise your control over essential assets like proprietary software, designs, or content.

  10. Responsibility for Defects: A well-drafted ICA should outline the contractor's responsibility and liability in case of errors, omissions, or legal issues. Without it, you might be left without proper protection, making your business solely responsible for any liabilities that arise from the contractor's work.

The Federal Government has committed to strengthening enforcement against sham contracting and underpayment by allocating over $9.2 million towards investigating and litigating sham contracting. It is now more important than ever to ensure that you have the right contracts in place in your business.

In conclusion, having a legally drafted Independent Contractor Agreement is not just a prudent measure; it's an essential safeguard for businesses in Australia. This contract provides clarity, protection, and peace of mind for both parties involved. By clearly defining the working relationship, responsibilities, payment terms, intellectual property rights, confidentiality, and defect rectification provisions, an Independent Contractor Agreement minimises risks, ensures legal compliance, and helps prevent costly disputes down the road.

It's a tool for building trust, setting expectations, and establishing a solid foundation for a successful and harmonious partnership. By investing in this vital legal document, businesses can confidently engage contractors while safeguarding their interests and reducing potential liabilities.

Do not fear, LxD is here to help. We can create you a bespoke Independent Contractor Agreement for your business from $1,200+GST. You can reach us at or (07) 3041 4063

Otherwise you can purchase a template Independent Contractor Agreement from our website here.

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