Note: Employment and independent contractor roles vary by region. USA Volleyball recommends that you check your local and state guidelines before hiring coaches or officials as either employees or independent contractors.

In youth sports, many coaches and referees are unpaid volunteers—often times parents sacrificing evenings or weekends to help their kids develop a passion for sports. But sometimes coaches and referees are workers paid by associations. In these cases, it is important for the associations to accurately determine whether the workers should be classified as employees or independent contractors.

On one hand, incorrectly classifying workers as independent contractors could expose associations to unpleasant surprises such as (a) lawsuits brought by a single worker or a group of them, (b) facing large bills for unpaid payroll taxes, or (c) facing steep penalties for failing to provide workers’ compensation or unemployment insurance. In addition to monetary considerations, associations that improperly classify workers as independent contractors may face reputational harm that makes recruiting talented coaches or referees an uphill battle.

On the other hand, incorrectly classifying workers as employees—when they could lawfully be deemed independent contractors—means associations will pay more to maintain their workforce and be subject to additional legal and regulatory burdens.

So how can associations make sure they are properly classifying their workers? Unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer. Whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor largely depends on the degree of control the association exerts over the worker: the more control the association exerts, the greater the likelihood that the worker should be classified as an employee. The difficulty is that there is no clear definition of control— no bright line, so to speak—that indicates whether they should classify a coach or referee as an employee. The law uses an ambiguous “balancing test,” which weighs many variables to arrive at the proper designation....

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