Given the complexities of operating a US-based business in Canada, it’s no surprise that some employers look for loopholes and workarounds. One workaround that US businesses have tried is to hire Canadians as independent contractors instead of employees. The US Company may feel that this removes the need for them to have a business presence north of the border as they merely have to direct funds from their bank account to the independent contractors.
Unfortunately, this approach can cause numerous legal and business issues.
An Employee by any other Name
If you need an independent contractor in Canada, that’s perfectly acceptable and completely legal. If you need an employee in Canada, and use an independent contractor to avoid tax withholdings and other employment regulations, then you’ve broken the law. Just like the IRS, the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) has strict rules around qualifying someone as an independent contractor. The CRA has expressed a direct interest in eliminating the underground economies that have been created by employers abusing the independent contractor system. They are actively looking for businesses that abuse the system, and the penalties are severe.
Loss of Control
Unsurprisingly, an independent contractor is expected to be independent. They set their own hours, provide their own tools, and can subcontract their work to other people. By law, you have very little say in how they conduct their business. As a manager or owner, this gives you very little control over someone who is working for you. If they’re being used legitimately as a contractor, that’s rarely a problem. However, if you’re using them as a de-facto employee, then you have issues. Training them on your business processes, giving them goals to achieve and the tools to accomplish them and having the expectation that they are only working for you, all cross the line between contractor and employee.
The only reason to use independent contractors as a workaround is convenience. Setting up all of the accounts and infrastructure to pay workers legitimately is difficult and time consuming. Instead of dealing with all of the legal and administrative complexities, some employers choose to pay contractors directly, expecting them to handle all of the legal and tax requirements themselves. While this may be simpler, it’s illegal and can result in huge fines, back payments, criminal penalties, and the loss of your right to conduct business in Canada. To make matters worse, it’s all pointless, since there’s a way that’s just as easy, yet completely legal.
Employers of Record
If you want the convenience of paying a flat rate, without having to worry about tax withholdings, workplace regulations, or business infrastructure, then you want an Employer of Record (EOR). They operate in the same way as an American Professional Employer Organization (PEO). An EOR already has all of the infrastructure, accounts, and insurance necessary to directly hire Canadian employees. You pay the EOR directly, then they hire and pay employees, handle withholdings and remittances, and ensure workplace compliance. You get the convenience of a contractor, without the legal risk, and without ceding control.