What is an independent contractor?

North Dakota uses the “common law test” – a series of 20 questions which are used to determine whether an individual providing services is an employee or independent contractor. The common law test focuses primarily on the level of control a business has over a worker.

The following questions will assist in reviewing the relationship between the service provider and the employer, to determine whether the service provider is an employee or independent contractor. There is no specific number of factors that must be met to determine the individual’s status; rather, the Department reviews the circumstances as a whole in the context of the individual’s occupation and relevant facts.

The following is a list of factors evaluated by the North Dakota Department of Labor and Human Rights when determining the status of work relationships submitted for review under the Department's Independent Contractor Verification process.

  1. Instructions. A person who is required to comply with other persons' instructions about when, where, and how the person is to work is ordinarily an employee. This control factor is present if the person or persons for whom the services are performed have the right to require compliance with instructions.
  2. Training. Training a person by requiring an experienced employee to work with the person, by corresponding with the person, by requiring the person to attend meetings, or by using other methods, indicates that the person or persons for whom the services are performed want the services performed in a particular method or manner.
  3. Integration. Integration of the person's services into the business operations generally shows that the person is subject to direction and control. When the success or continuation of a business depends to an appreciable degree upon the performance of certain services, the persons who perform those services must necessarily be subject to a certain amount of control by the owner of the business.
  4. Services rendered personally. If the services must be rendered personally, presumably the person or persons for whom the services are performed are interested in the methods used to accomplish the work as well as in the results.
  5. Hiring, supervising, and paying assistants. If the person or persons for whom the services are performed hire, supervise, and pay assistants, that factor generally shows control over the persons on the job. However, if one person hires, supervises, and pays the other assistants pursuant to a contract under which the person agrees to provide materials and labor and under which the person is responsible only for the attainment of a result, this factor indicates an independent contractor status.
  6. Continuing relationship. A continuing relationship between the person and the person or persons for whom the services are performed indicates that an employer-employee relationship exists. A continuing relationship may exist when work is performed at frequently recurring although irregular intervals.
  7. Set hours of work. The establishment of set hours of work by the person or persons for whom the services are performed is a factor indicating control.
  8. Full time required. If the person must devote substantially full time to the business of the person or persons for whom the services are performed, such person or persons have control over the amount of time the person spends working and impliedly restrict the person from doing other gainful work. An independent contractor, on the other hand, is free to work when and for whom he or she chooses.
  9. Doing work on the premises of the person or persons for whom the services are performed. If the work is performed on the premises of the person or persons for whom the services are performed, that factor suggests control over the person, especially if the work could be done elsewhere. Work done off the premises of the person or persons receiving the services, such as at the office of the worker, indicates some freedom from control. However, this fact by itself does not mean that the person is not an employee. The importance of this factor depends on the nature of the service involved and the extent to which an employer generally would require that employees perform such service on the employer's premises. Control over the place of work is indicated when the person or persons for whom the services are performed have the right to compel the worker to travel a designated route, to canvass a territory within a certain time, or to work at specific places as required.
  10. Order or sequence set. If a person must perform services in the order or sequence set by the person or persons for whom the services are performed, that factor shows that the person is not free to follow the person's own pattern of work but must follow the established routines and schedules of the person or persons for whom the services are performed. Often, because of the nature of an occupation, the person or persons for whom the services are performed do not set the order of the services or set the order infrequently. It is sufficient to show control, however, if such person or persons retain the right to do so.
  11. Oral or written reports. A requirement that the person submit regular or written reports to the person or persons for whom the services are performed indicates control. By contract, however, parties can agree that services are to be performed by certain dates and the persons performing those services can be required to report as to the status of the services being performed so that the person for whom the services are being performed can coordinate other contracts that person may have which are required in the successful total completion of a particular project.
  12. Payment by hour, week, month. Payment by the hour, week, or month generally points to an employer-employee relationship, provided that this method of payment is not just a convenient way of paying a lump sum agreed upon as the cost of a job. Payment made by the job or on a straight commission generally indicates that the worker is an independent contractor.
  13. Payment of business or traveling expenses, or both. If the person or persons for whom the services are performed ordinarily pay the person's business or traveling expenses, or both, the person is ordinarily an employee. An employer, to be able to control expenses, generally retains the right to regulate and direct the person's business activities.
  14. Furnishing of tools and materials. The fact that the person or persons for whom the services are performed furnish significant tools, materials, and other equipment, tends to show the existence of an employer-employee relationship.
  15. Significant investment. If the person invests in facilities that are used by the person in performing services and are not typically maintained by employees (such as the maintenance of an office rented at fair value from an unrelated party), that factor tends to indicate that the person is an independent contractor. On the other hand, lack of investment in facilities indicates dependence on the person or persons for whom the services are performed for such facilities, and, accordingly, the existence of an employer-employee relationship.
  16. Realization of profit or loss. A person who can realize a profit or suffer a loss as a result of the person's services (in addition to the profit or loss ordinarily realized by employees) is generally an independent contractor, but the person who cannot is an employee. For example, if the person is subject to a real risk of economic loss due to significant investments or a bona fide liability for expenses, such as salary payments to unrelated employees, that factor indicates that the person is an independent contractor. The risk that a person will not receive payment for his or her services, however, is common to both independent contractors and employees and thus does not constitute a sufficient economic risk to support treatment as an independent contractor.
  17. Working for more than one firm at a time. If a person performs services under multiple contracts for unrelated persons or firms at the same time, that factor generally indicates that the person is an independent contractor. However, a person who performs services for more than one person may be an employee for each of the persons, especially when such persons are part of the same service arrangement.
  18. Making service available to general public. The fact that a person makes his or her services available to the general public on a regular and consistent basis indicates an independent contractor relationship.
  19. Right to discharge. The right to discharge a person is a factor indicating that the person is an employee and the person possessing the right is an employer. An employer exercises control through the threat of dismissal, which causes the person to obey the employer's instructions. An independent contractor, on the other hand, cannot be fired so long as the independent contractor produces a result that meets the contract specifications.
  20. Right to terminate. If the person has the right to end his or her relationship with the person for whom the services are performed at any time he or she wishes without incurring liability, that factor indicates an employer-employee relationship. A contract can be terminated by the mutual agreement of the parties before its completion or by one of the parties to the contract before its completion to prevent a further breach of the contract or to minimize damages. This situation indicates an independent contractor relationship.