What's Better to Hire an Independent Contractor or Employee?

Independent Contractor or Employee

In times of outsourcing, downsizing, and economic cutbacks, it may be advantageous for a company to hire individuals as independent contractors to perform some of the functions that are currently being performed by that company’s employees. However, simply calling someone an independent contractor does not make it so. CRA will look behind the title of an individual to determine whether that person is in fact an independent contractor or an employee. Basically, CRA will determine whether a master-servant relationship exists, which indicates that an employer-employee relationship exists.

While there are significant benefits to hiring an independent contractor to perform certain services rather than using employees, a company should be very cautious in its decision to engage an individual acting as an independent contractor. The risk of having a court or tribunal determine that an independent contractor is an employee can be significant because the employer may face fines, penalties, and interest under various legislation, such as the Income Tax Act. A written agreement can go a long way towards clarifying the intentions of the parties.

Some advantages of hiring an independent contractor:

  1. The employer’s portion of premium under the Employment Insurance Act does not have to be remitted to an independent contractor. In addition, since the employer does not have to deduct and remit premiums payable by an independent contractor under the Act, this may result in decreased administrative costs to the employer.
  2. Income tax does not have to be deducted and remitted for an independent contractor.
  3. An employer is not required to deduct and remit employee contributions to the Canada Pension Plan, nor is the employer required to make any contributions on behalf of someone who is an independent contractor. This results in significant savings for the employer, in addition to decreased administrative costs.
  4. Independent contractors are not entitled to legislated benefits under provisions of the Employment Standards Code. Specifically, independent contractors are not entitled to minimum wage requirements, overtime pay, hours of work, vacation pay, and the benefit of the termination and severance pay provisions under the Code.
  5. Premiums under the provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Act do not have to be paid on behalf of an independent contractor. These premiums can be significant depending on the type of business in which the employer is engaged.
  6. Benefits that are provided to employees don’t have to be provided to an independent contractor.


CRA has established a guide on its criteria for employer-employee relationships. In determining whether someone is an employee or an independent contractor, the courts or specialized tribunals usually look at the following factors:

The court or tribunal will attempt to determine who controls the manner in which services are provided by examining a number of criteria, including the amount of discretion that the individual exercises. Consequently, if your company directs the work done and how it is done, then it’s more likely that it will be found that the individual is an employee rather than an independent contractor. In a contract of service, an employer has a good deal of control over what is to be done and how it is done.

The control test has inherent weaknesses. For example, an otherwise independent contractor situation may have conditions in the contract detailing specifications and work to be performed. Additionally, in cases where employees are highly skilled and possess knowledge, skills, and expertise beyond the employer’s sphere of competency, it may be difficult for the employer to direct the functions that they must perform.

It does not matter whether or not the payor has actually exhibited control. What is important is whether the payor can exercise control. For example, if the payor has the power to stipulate matters such as time and place of work, it does not matter that it is actually exercised. As well, the general right to supervise and reject unsatisfactory work does not in itself constitute sufficient control to establish employer-employee relationships.

CRA generally considers the control test the most important test.

  • Ownership of Tools
    An individual is more likely to be an independent contractor if he or she owns the tools used to provide the service. However, this test is not of great importance since, in many cases, there are no “tools” used in the work, and in other cases, it is customary for employees to use their own tools.
  • Chance of Profit
    If the relationship between the individual and the recipient of the services results in the individual having the opportunity to make a profit for providing the service, then it’s more likely that the individual will be found as an independent contractor.
  • Risk of Loss
    If the party for whom the service is provided assumes all of the risks associated with the individual providing the service and the individual who provides the service assumes very little or no risk, then the relationship is more likely to be characterized as an employment relationship rather than that of an independent contractor.
  • Degree of Integration
    It is more likely for a relationship to be characterized as that of an independent contractor if the services provided are not integrated into the business of the recipient of the services but are only accessories to it. If the services are determined to be critical to the business, an employer-employee relationship is implied. Generally, the courts do not consider this an important test and usually consider the test only relevant if the control test is also met.

Questions to Determine Independent Contractor Relationship

An answer of YES to these questions indicates an independent contractor relationship

  1. Does the recipient control when, where, and how the work is done?
  2. Does the recipient have other business activities that are integrated with the activities provided to the payor?
  3. Is the recipient able to work for other companies without the consent or knowledge of the payor?
  4. Does the recipient have the power to hire substitutes and assistants to perform the services without the payor's prior knowledge or approval? Is the recipient responsible for the remuneration of these assistants?
  5. Does the recipient assume any risks or supply any funds for the recipient’s activities?
  6. Is the recipient responsible for any losses, expenses, or damage that the recipient causes?
  7. Is there a foreseeable end to the project on which the recipient is working, as opposed to a relationship that envisions a continuation of work?
  8. Does the recipient provide their own supplies and equipment or reimburse the payor for the use of their equipment?
  9. Does the recipient have a separate office that is not on the payor’s premises?
  10. Is the recipient ineligible for rights, privileges, and benefits enjoyed by employees of the payor?
  11. Is the payer able to survive without the recipient’s services? Can the payor easily replace the recipient's services?
  12. Does the recipient issue invoices to the payor and receive cheques from the payor?
  13. When an invoice is issued, are the terms and conditions similar to those of other independent contractors for similar services?
  14. If a written contract exists, does it support an independent contractor status?


If you are considering engaging an independent contractor to provide services for your company, then it’s recommended that you consider the following:

  1. There should be a written agreement in place stipulating that the relationship is one of an independent contractor rather than employment; the contract is for a definite term; the independent contractor is responsible for deducting and remitting income tax, Canada Pension Plan contributions, and Employment Insurance contributions; and that your company will not be making any remittances on behalf of the independent contractor concerning these contributions.
  2. Your company should have very little control over how the independent contractor is to perform the service. You should not instruct the independent contractor as to when, where, and how these services are to be performed.
  3. The independent contractor should be required to have his or her own Workers’ Compensation Board account.
  4. The independent contractor should be allowed to provide his services to other companies or the public.
  5. The independent contractor should not be reimbursed for any expenses; rather, his expenses should be covered in the remuneration paid.
  1. The independent contractor should have his or her own equipment or tools to provide the service for your company.
  2. The independent contractor should have the ability to use others to provide the services and be allowed to hire employees to provide the services contracted for.

Bottom Line

Independent contractors are common in Canada, independent contractor taxes are comparatively more favourable and small businesses do prefer working with them, but there are still risks involved with working with such workers. This happens in particular when the employee classifies their workers as independent contractors solely to reduce their costs and their obligations.

Given the complexity and the punitive nature of these rules, taxpayers should consult with their tax accountant to ensure that business practices are in line with these rules. Feel free to reach out to Filing Taxes at 416-479-8532. Schedule your tax preparation appointment with us and take the first step towards proper management of your finances. Our professional personal tax accountants will make sure to get you the maximum tax refund on your personal tax return.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this page is intended to provide general information. The information does not consider your personal situation and is not intended to be used without consultation from accounting and financial professionals. Salman Rundhawa and Filing Taxes will not be held liable for any problems that arise from the usage of the information provided on this page.

Written By:
Salman Rundhawa
Salman Rundhawa is the founder of Filing Taxes. Salman provides valuable tax planning, accounting, and income tax preparation services in Toronto, Mississauga, Oakville, and Hamilton.

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