Ask SCORE: What should I do before I hire my first employee?

Hiring employees for your small business can help lighten your workload. But it also creates the need to manage something you didn’t need to worry about when you were handling all aspects of your business by yourself:

Payroll.

Even if you have just one employee, you need to do payroll accurately and in compliance with all legal and regulatory responsibilities. If you don’t, you could incur costly penalties from the Internal Revenue Service.

Before you hire your first employee and put processes in place to handle payroll, make sure you pay attention to two important details. 

Register for an Employer Identification Number (EIN).

The IRS requires that you have one before you hire employees. You can apply for an EIN online at www.irs.gov or contact the IRS to establish one. Your EIN will be used for reporting taxes and other documents to the IRS. You’ll also need your EIN when reporting employee information to state agencies.

Also, check to determine whether or not you’ll need state or local ID numbers to process taxes.

Know the difference between an employee and an independent contractor.

Laws and requirements are different for them when it comes to withholding and paying taxes and in how you conduct your working relationship.

A few key differences include:

  • Generally, employers provide employees with all the equipment, supplies, software, and tools they need to perform their jobs. Independent contractors use those that they own.
  • Employees typically have their work hours set by their employers, whereas independent contractors control their own work hours.
  • With employees, you the employer will need to withhold income tax and Social Security and Medicare tax from their paychecks. You’ll also need to remit federal and state unemployment taxes. When hiring help, employees must complete IRS Form W-4 (Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate) so you can withhold the proper amount from their pay.
  • Conversely, independent contractors are responsible for directly remitting tax payments; you do not withhold taxes from their compensation. Ask them to complete IRS Form W-9 (Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification), which certifies they are not employees.
  • Independent contractors send you an invoice for services rendered.

Check out the L&I rules and regulations for your business. 

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries has a page on its website that can help you find out what L&I requirements apply to your business.

What’s next? 

After you have these key action items checked off your list, you can concentrate on other details such as deciding on a pay period and either choosing a payroll system or outsourcing your payroll administration.

For more information about payroll requirements, visit the Understanding Employment Taxes page of the IRS website. Also consider contacting your local SCORE chapter to get insight from a mentor who can point you to the right resources and guide you as you grow your business.

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