Comment from Michael Ballard

I am not primarily an Independent Contractor. I am employed as a software developer by a company that sells complex business computers systems to other businesses. My employer provides me with all the usual benefits that are expected or required by law and by common practice.

As a result of 40 years in this business, I have considerable knowledge of certain older databases as well as certain newer and more currently popular ones. I also have knowledge of some tools for getting data from the older systems into the newer ones. This set of knowledge has led to a number of opportunities to help companies migrate from an antiquated system to a newer one. These ‘gigs’ have lasted from a few weeks to over a year but they have never involved enough time commitment to constitute a ‘full-time’ job. I’ve done the work remotely from a computer at my home and during hours outside of my primary employment. At times, I’ve worked on as many as 3 of these gigs during the same calendar period. At other times, there has been no work for months. The most recent such project ended around 3 years ago and there are no current prospects. The only tools or equipment required were a PC and an Internet connection so my ‘investment’ was pretty small. Most of these gigs were done on an hourly rate basis with monthly billing (typically $50 or $65/hour).

In addition to my computer work, I also have a couple life-long hobbies that have sometimes led to paying gigs.

I got my first camera somewhere around age 5. I eventually amassed a collection of photography equipment valued at over $5000. For a few years, I had a black & white darkroom in my home. Occasionally, people have asked me to photograph weddings, bar mitzvahs and other special events. I have also been the ‘official group photographer’ for international group trips. These gigs are usually referrals from a friend and the actual event happens once and then it is over. There may be follow-ups to present images, manage print requests, etc. I negotiate a price for each event that is intended to cover all of my expenses and, hopefully, put some money in my pocket. For tax purposes, this is usually categorized as hobby income. While some argument might be made for employee status on the group trips, such a status for a wedding would be absurd.

I went to my first dance class around age 2, started singing in church choirs around age 4 and started learning my first musical instrument around age 8. In 1983 I was introduced to certain uncommon percussion instruments: rhythm bones, bodhran (Irish frame drum) and spoons. In the years since then I have developed significant skill with them. Various venues in the areas that I have lived have sponsored ‘open’ jam sessions where I have been, by and large, welcomed and respected by players of many other instruments. People at these sessions sometimes form groups to perform for a party or a one-time bar program or a historical presentation, etc. Audience members at these sessions sometimes ask players to ‘do a party gig’. Sometimes these gigs are done for a flat rate per person for a specific span of performance time. Sometimes they are done on an hourly rate basis with an agreed minimum per person. My investment in ‘tools and equipment’ is not large. Around $3000 in instruments, mics and cables, spread over 20+ years of public performance.

At my busiest, this ‘side’ income added up to about 18% of my annual gross income. In the last couple of years, it has been less than 2% of my annual gross income. Since I live in California and am subject to what is known as AB-5, many potential gigs have evaporated. COVID-19 has forced cancellation of others. It’s looking like my ‘gig’ income is going to be well under 1% of my gross this year.

All of this is kind of a long way around to suggest that the ‘profit motive’ should be a consideration in determining employee vs independent contractor status. Since I make a good living as an employee of a software company and my other income is a small or even trivial part of my annual income, categorizing me as an ’employee’ for these ‘side gigs’ is absurd. It also puts an undue burden on the party/event host to handle the paperwork to document my employee status and send appropriate payroll deductions to the relevant state and federal agencies. I don’t need these gigs to provide me with health insurance or sick leave. I generally receive considerably more than the federal minimum wage. The local musicians union won’t even consider me for membership because the sort of gigs I do are not the sort that they would promote, support or refer their members to.

Comment ID: WHD-2020-0007-0025 | 3-Oct-20

Categorized under Flexibility, Supplemental Income

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