Certainly, this is perhaps one of the most exciting times for the spoken interpreting arena – both medical and legal. Why? Because after years of shared efforts focusing on raising the level of perception and recognition of interpreters as professionals, it is just now that it seems to be paying off. For starters, we have finally begun to hear words like: certification, credentials, qualifications, and expertise, all centered around a “job” that has struggled, for years, to make the most basic standards of practice known to an industry reluctant to accept it as more than that.

But, even with these great accomplishments, there are still some issues that threaten the success of those interpreters, and in particular, those that work in the field as independent contractors.  Let us keep in mind that, even though, the demand for interpreting services is increasing and will continue to increase, many interpreters cannot land jobs as staff employees in courts and hospitals as institutions try to minimize the overhead cost and try their best to be “smart” about the utilization of their resources. The obvious solution for this unique type of interpreter has been, then, to become part of a very competitive network (that we know!) of agencies that subcontract their services to fulfill the demand for interpreting services.

This situation is understandable, and it portrays the reality of many industries that, virtually, cannot utilize all of their assets as typical 9 to 5 employees. However, what is NOT understandable, and in my opinion, is despicable, is when some of the interpreting agencies misguide the freelance interpreters by telling them that they cannot work for other agencies once a contractual relationship has been established with them.  This, my friends, is wrong!!

It is very simple. According to the law, and more specifically, the IRS, there are twenty factors to consider. Based on an examination of cases and rulings, these factors determine whether an individual is an employee or an independent contractor (The IRS “Twenty Factor” Ruling on Contractors vs. Employee, Rev. Rul. 87-41 1987-1 C.B. 296). When it comes to working for more than one company, it specifically states:

  1. WORKING FOR MORE THAN ONE FIRM AT A TIME. If a worker performs more than de minimis services for a multiple of unrelated persons or firms at the same time, that factor generally indicates that the worker is an independent contractor. See Rev. Rul. 70-572, 1970-2 C.B. 221. However, a worker who performs services for more than one person may be an employee of each of the persons, especially where such persons are part of the same service arrangement.

Moreover, on a test designed to make clear this determination, one of their questions addresses the issue of how an independent contractor is defined. It questions, “Whether the individual works for more than one firm at a time. Independent contractors are free to work for more than one firm at a time,” (FLSA and Independent Contractors Training Manual, page 150).

So, if you are an independent contractor trying to make a living out of the rewarding career of interpreting, I truly hope you try to partner with those that not only practice good business values within this industry, but more than anything that value YOU as a professional and as a person.