How to Convert an Independent Contractor to a Full-Time Employee

This guide will show you how to convert independent contractors to full-time employees without any legal issues, knowing that you're compliant with the IRS tax and employment status regulations.

Anja Simic
Written by Anja Simic
September 17, 2021
Need help onboarding international talent?
Try Deel


These are the signs that the independent contractor you work with is a true keeper:

  • They deliver on time, every time
  • What they deliver continues to amaze you
  • Their growth is visible and contributed to your company’s growth
  • You’re worried that someone else will make an offer before you do — and losing such a stellar worker isn’t an option
  • It’s just not the same when they’re on the break

There’s no better way to award them for their work than to offer them a full-time position and some job safety to come with it! In return, you’ll get a more stable, in-house worker, motivated to dedicate all the time and skills to the company.

Converting an independent contractor to a full-time employee isn’t difficult at all.

However, you’ll need to make a couple of changes to the way you pay them, fill out the tax forms, and assign them with work in general.

This article will serve you as a guide to a painless transition, so your independent contractors work within all the legal rules, from day one of their employment. It covers:

  • Independent contractor definition
  • Full-time employee definition
  • Differences between independent contractors and full-time employees and a step-by-step transformation guide
  • What to do in case you work with multiple independent contractors from a certain country, and you want them working as employees

Disclaimer: This article is informational and should not be used instead of legal advice.

What is an independent contractor?

An independent contractor is a type of worker who provides services or products for other companies and legal entities — as a non-employee.

This type of arrangement became increasingly popular with the growth of remote work and gig economy. Almost every professional who owns the basic working equipment such as a laptop, microphone, and camera, can work as an independent contractor.

The list goes beyond designers, marketing specialists, writers, developers, and artists; the International Revenue Service (IRS) also classifies lawyers, doctors, dentists, vets, and many other “traditional” professions as eligible.

Independent contractors are self-reliant: they fill  out their own tax forms and pay for health insurance, apply for a tax return, buy and maintain their own equipment, hone and perfect their skills and knowledge as they find fitting. All of the business expenses are their responsibility. They also determine their vacation time, but employers aren’t required to provide them with a paid sick leave or vacation pay. This means that they don't earn money in their downtime.

While this brings many challenges and some difficulties, independent contractors, as well as freelancers, do enjoy a lot of freedom unavailable to regular employees:

  • Independent contractors can freely pick the tasks and clients, no strings attached (apart from the contracts they sign with them), and they can terminate the collaboration at any point
  • They organize their working days and hours as it fits them, and pick where they’ll work (they can work full-time, part-time, or whichever number of hours they see fit)
  • They have complete control over the working process and how they do their job
  • They have a final say over their career development

To conclude: they are independent and flexible but need to do everything on their own.

From the employers’ perspective, hiring independent contractors has some considerable benefits.

In addition to the aforementioned self-reliance, they are in most cases cheaper to hire and require minimal training. A global talent pool is open for the employers to choose the independent contractors from, and they can terminate (or choose not to renew) the contract when they wish.

Defining a full-time employee

Full-time employees are your traditional company workers bound by employment contracts they sign upon arrival. They are paid a salary or hourly wage on set payment cycles.

They work within the company premises (unless the company is remote), in a way regulated by their employers. To complete the work, they use tools and equipment provided, maintained, and financed by their company.

Full-time employees, consequently, depend on their employers for many things and are obliged to work in a way determined by their superiors and company owners. Having strict business hours, dress code, and company culture to go by leaves employees with significantly lower levels of freedom compared to independent contractors.

However, employers are required to do a lot more for their full-time crew.

In return for their professional loyalty, employees in the US receive employee benefits packages as required by Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA): health insurance, worker's compensation, retirement plan contribution, paid time off, etc. They are also protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

In addition to the legal requirements mentioned above, employers need to provide their employees with adequate training and make sure they’re happy and thriving. Otherwise, employees might leave them for a better deal — and it’s more costly to find and hire new people comparing to employee retention.

Sometimes, people mix things up and cannot make a clear difference between employees and independent contractors. To avoid this (and penalties that may follow), read our article about the misclassification of employees as independent contractors and go through this 20-factor test designed by the IRS  to determine if you may be dealing with worker misclassification.

Hire employees abroad, without setting up an entity

Get access to the world’s best talent. Hire full-time employees in 150 countries without having to set up a legal entity in a new country.

Learn more

The difference between independent contractors and full-time employees for legal and tax purposes

Above are the most basic differences between employees and independent contractors.

When you’re paying the independent contractor, you only have these requirements to meet:

And that’s it! Every other legal task is up to them to complete, including the self-employment tax and abiding by the Self-Employed Contributions Act (SECA).

For the employers who are looking to offer their independent contractors a full-time position, these are the requirements for the new employee:

  • Withholding taxes — employers are required to withhold a part of the employees’ income for tax purposes (FICA taxes)
  • Employment taxes — the specific taxes employers need to file include:
    1) Federal Income Tax 
    2) Social Security Tax 
    3) Medicare and Additional Medicare Tax 
    4) Federal Unemployment Tax

Employers need to report wages and income to the IRS by filing the W-2 Form, Wage and Tax Statement; to transmit these to the Social Security Administration, employers use the Form W-3, Transmittal of Wage and Tax Statements.

  • Employment law and protections — employees are protected with two acts:
    1) Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) — sets the minimum wage, forbids child labor, and handles working overtime 
    2) Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) — covers the payroll tax to fund social security (retirement plans, disability benefits, etc) and health care; both employers and employees pay FICA taxes — employees with the amount withheld from their wages, and employers need to pay an equal amount

It’s worth mentioning that, unlike employees, independent contractors aren’t protected by FLSA. This means that, instead of the minimum wage standard mandated by the state law, they can charge an hourly rate, per word, or in another way they consider appropriate.

Important reminder: when you switch from independent contractor to employee, you also need to switch from Form 1099 to Form W-2!

Differences between independent contractors and full-time employees can go even deeper than described above. Here we’ve covered the most important things from the employers’ perspective — for the full picture, take a look at our dedicated independent contractor vs employee article about these differences.

Converting an independent contractor to an employee

Once you know what needs to be done when it comes to taxes, everything else becomes much easier!

Here’s what else you need to do to make converting a contractor to an employee process complete.

  • Determine the employee status
  • Inform the independent contractor about the transition to an employee
  • Make the necessary adjustments for the new employee
  • Add the new employee to the company's payroll

Determine the employee status

First of all, you need to determine whether your independent contractor can switch to being an employee at all. To help employers, the IRS has created a three-question test that reveals whether the worker should be an independent contractor or an employee:

  1. What degree of control does the employer have over the worker’s behavior — as mentioned, independent contractors have the freedom to choose working hours, days off, tools and working space, as well as the manner of work, while employees have to follow the company rules
  2. Does the employer have financial control over the worker — independent contractors and employers have a mutual agreement regarding the pay, while employees are guaranteed minimum wage, income, and the U.S. Department of Labor regulates the relationship
  3. Relationship type and duration — the IRS considers workers as employees if the relationship is long-term and doesn’t change often; independent contractors are hired temporarily, without guarantees, often for certain projects only

The other way is to complete the IRS 20 Factor Test.

In case these guidelines don’t provide you with the clarification needed, you can also file the Form SS-8 (Determination of Worker Status for Purposes of Federal Employment Taxes and Income Tax Withholding) with the IRS and let them determine how you should classify the worker.

Inform the independent contractor about the transition to an employee

Once you’ve determined your contractor is eligible to make this shift, let them know!

Here’s where you’ll need to discuss what this could mean for their career. Some independent contractors love their freedom of choice and the way their workdays look at the moment, and won’t be willing to make the change. Their contract work allows them a lot of liberties and independence, and the ability to set their own contract rate. So, what you should do to convince them?

Negotiating is the name of the game: let them know you value their skills and wish to provide them with something more, so they stay longer. This may include education, increased annual salary, 401k payments, life insurance, or anything else you’re willing to offer.

You can also offer them a base salary and additional bonuses and perks, something that their contract position couldn't possibly bring them. Having a full-time job also means having a full-time salary, so make sure that the job offer matches that and you won't have any trouble convincing them.

If they agree, you may contact the HR department and start making the necessary shift. Let them know how this reflects their legal obligations and tax requirements.

Make the necessary adjustments for the new employee

Here are some tips to make your new employee feel welcome and have all they need:

  • Introduce them to the rest of their team
  • Pick a dedicated mentor who will help them adjust and learn how things work for full-time employees
  • Provide them with tools, equipment, and designated workspace
  • Make sure they go through the onboarding process

Add the new employee to the company payroll

Last but not least, add the new employee to your company's payroll. For this, you will need your HR department, who will make sure all the necessary information is collected and stored in the new employee record. There might be some additional checks and paperwork to fill in, such as signing employment agreements and contracts and you're all set.

At this point in time, you should also pay a recruiter's fee if you've chosen to work with a staffing agency. They can be of great help in this transition of contract workers if you require it. One of the biggest benefits of working with them is that they can provide you with a market rate for the new job you want to have done by a full-time employee. Your freelancer's pay rate may not match what you wanted to offer, so it's better to have the information beforehand.

Hiring full-time employees internationally? These are your options

Recruiting top talent has become available for companies of all shapes and sizes, from startups to enterprises, but it doesn't mean it's simple. If the people you want to hire as full-time employees live in other countries, things get a bit more complicated because you need to comply with foreign laws as well. And some can quite differ - notice periods, mandatory time off, minimum wage... It's impossible to make yourself familiar with all of this, and you don't need to. What you do have are these two options:  

  • Opening a subsidiary — subsidiary is a local branch of your company that enables you to hire workers as local employees; this requires you to find someone on the ground who will complete the legal and financial work, so you stay compliant with the local labor laws.
  • Using employer of record (EOR) services — this one is far easier to manage than a subsidiary; by outsourcing the complete hiring process, you are making the employer of record the hiring party on your behalf.

This is where Deel can help!

As an employer of record, Deel can take care of complete international employment, payroll, and compliance worldwide. This includes local support, customized full-time employment contracts, international payments, and more benefits for both employers and employees who’d love to take a dip in the global hiring pool.

Book a demo on our website today to learn more about the ways we can help.

Deel makes growing remote and international teams effortless. Ready to get started?






Legal experts