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Maybe I'm missing a joke about "the difference between the ideal and the real workd," but I don't understand most of these contentions.
> For all the rigamarole, the difference between a contractor and an
> employee is that a contractor *only has the produce a deliverable*. How
> they do it, the tools they use to do it, and the process by which they do
> it are all under their direct control. If the employer controls *any* of
> these, you're considered a statutory employee and should be paid W2.
Lots of legitimate contract positions require use of specific tools, and quite reasonably so. Imagine a group of writers working on a single large help system: whether you're a contractor of on staff, they're going to tell you what tools to use so the team can work together.
> (One tip off - if you are required to show up at a given location at
> specific times, you're an employee - period.)
Imagine that same team holding meetings to discuss assignments, progress, and changes: whether you're a contractor of on staff, they're going to want you there to participate.
Imagine being brought in for a contract to cover for someone on long-term leave: you'll be working with SMEs who have schedules and can't be expected to change them to accommodate you--much less forego meeting with you at all, just because you're a contractor.
> Personal impression: I'm wary of the setup, especially since they say
> they want to "convert" you to W2. If you'll be performing the same
> functions as a 1099 that you will be performing when "converted", they're
> skirting the law - and I'd have to question why they're doing that. I'd
> make sure I know the answer before I took the leap.
Contract-to-permanent arrangements are common (not just in tech writing), and almost all of them involve doing the same work in both roles. That's the point: to "try you out" before making the huge commitment of bringing you on staff.
Similarly, some places have a probationary period, during which you get no benefits and it's really easy to fire you. Personally, I'd prefer the contract-to-permanent scenario: If things don't work out, it'll be a lot easier in your next interview to say "My contract ended" than to explain why your previous employer let you go.
I certainly wouldn't be suspicious unless you have a solid reason, like knowing they've abused this kind of arrangement in the past; otherwise, the risk in questioning their motives is that you may well talk your way of an interview for a job you said you really want.
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