DEAR CARRIE: My niece went on an interview, and the next day she received a job offer. She accepted it over the phone, with an agreed-upon start date. She then gave notice at her current job. She seemed set. But one week later, the new company called her to say that the business was adequately staffed and pulled back its offer. She wanted to remain with her current employer, but the company told her it had already moved on. Does she have any recourse against the company that pulled back the job offer? — Vanishing Job Offer
DEAR VANISHING: Your niece is not alone. This is a question that Help Wanted gets from time to time. Apparently some employers have trouble making up their minds even after they’ve made someone a job offer.
But to your question, the company’s action, as painful as it is for your niece, is probably legal. That’s because New York is an employment-at-will state. That means that an employee who is not covered by a union or employment contract can be hired or fired at any time for any reason, except for a discriminatory one.
And that, unfortunately, extends to job offers, some lawyers interviewed for a similar question have said. In fact, they have said that when people quit one job to take another, they risk losing the job — even before they start.
DEAR CARRIE: Last spring, my daughter taught a couple of dance classes at a studio. She was paid about $800. The dance studio sent her a 1099 form, which showed that it didn’t withhold any taxes. Now I’m doing her taxes, and it appears she has to pay self-employment taxes. Did her employer have an obligation to inform her that she was working as an independent contractor, not as an employee? — Taxing Surprise
DEAR TAXING: Employers don’t have to inform employees that they’ve been classified as independent contractors, but you’d think they would do so out of common courtesy. After all, independent contractors are responsible for paying their own taxes, something your daughter found out the hard way.
But the larger issue is whether she truly is an independent contractor. She may not be.
Companies gain from such designations because they don’t have to pay such things as workers’ compensation and payroll taxes.
Here is the bottom line from the IRS on the issue:
“The general rule is that an individual is an independent contractor if the [employer] has the right to control or direct only the result of the work and not what will be done and how it will be done,” the agency says on its website.
And it adds, “The earnings of a person who is working as an independent contractor are subject to self-employment tax.”
The New York State Labor Department’s website lists company practices that indicate an employer-employee relationship. They include setting work hours; requiring attendance at meetings and training; telling an individual when, where and how to do the job; directly supervising the job; providing facilities, equipment, tools or supplies; setting the rate of pay; providing fringe benefits; and prohibiting the person from providing services to competitive businesses.
If your daughter has any doubt about her status, she should talk to her employer or contact the IRS for help in determining if she is an employee. After she contacts the agency, it will reach out to her employer to verify her claim.
Go to bit.ly/TaxesLI for more on the differences between an employee and an independent contractor.