The first and most important issue to determine in any employment law dispute is the exact nature of the legal relationship between the worker and employer. If the worker is an employee, then he or she is entitled federal minimum wage, workplace and insurance benefits, and other protections. However, if the worker is an independent contractor, then most federal and state worker protections will not apply. Thus, it is easy to see why the question of employee vs. independent contractor is so significant. Be that as it may, it is not always easy to determine whether any given worker is an employee who is entitled to benefits, or an independent contractor who is not. This is because it is the law that determines the nature of the relationship, not necessarily the parties themselves. Even if an employer and worker both consider the worker an independent contractor, the law may later determine that the worker is actually an employee, or vice-versa.

When determining whether a worker is an employee or not, the law focuses primarily on the work the person actually performs, and the way in which they perform it, as opposed to their title. A major part of this analysis is the question of who has the most control over the work arrangement. The more control an employer has over the worker, the more likely it is that the law would consider that worker an employee. By definition, an independent contractor has control over the work they do, the number of hours they work, and the methods used to complete the job. By contrast, an employee is told by the employer when, where and how to work.