Don’t Let Independent Contractor Non-Compliance Hinder Your Next Funding Round

Group of startup business owners discussing IC compliance using sticky notes on Glass door

In the fast-paced world of startups, agility and flexibility are prized virtues. To meet evolving business demands and access specialized skills without the commitment of long-term employment contracts, many startups turn to engaging independent contractors (ICs)

In this blog post, we explore the risks multinational startups face when engaging ICs from abroad, from misclassification dangers to unintentional permanent establishment in foreign markets. We also look at two possible solutions that can help a startup to safeguard its talent management strategy, ensuring compliant and effective engagement across the workforce. 

Misclassification dangers

One of the most significant risks startups face when engaging ICs is misclassification. Misclassifying workers as contractors when they should be employees can lead to severe consequences, from potential fines to legal ramifications and erosion of the relationship with the worker. 

Misclassification occurs when an organization treats a worker as an independent contractor rather than an employee, but the nature of the working relationship suggests otherwise. This can happen due to a lack of understanding of the classification criteria or intentional avoidance of legal obligations associated with employing workers. 

Regardless of the reason, the fallout from misclassification can be detrimental to startups, leading to costly legal battles, fines and reputational damage.

Unintended tax and legal liabilities

Startups expanding globally often rely on ICs to establish a presence in new markets quickly. However, this strategy comes with risks, including the unintentional creation of a permanent establishment in foreign markets. Failing to navigate the legal and tax complexities of international contractor engagement can lead to unexpected tax liabilities and compliance issues.

Establishing a permanent establishment inadvertently exposes startups to foreign tax laws and regulations, which may differ significantly from those in their home country. This can result in unexpected tax bills, penalties and regulatory scrutiny, ultimately hindering the startup’s growth and financial stability. Additionally, there are crucial considerations for intellectual property (IP) protection that startups should address when drafting contracts with ICs overseas.

Weighing the pros and cons

Startups may face the dilemma of deciding between hiring talent as traditional employees or engaging ICs, a decision that varies based on the function and type of talent required. It’s essential to carefully evaluate the advantages and disadvantages, considering which talent management structure will best suit your startup’s needs in both the short and long term. 

While ICs offer startups immediate access to specialized expertise without the fixed overhead costs associated with hiring full-time employees, the relationship with ICs may lack the depth of the traditional employer-employee bond that fosters long-term commitment, loyalty and alignment with the startup’s objectives. 

It’s essential to recognize that different countries have varying laws and regulations governing IC compliance. Understanding the legal landscape of each expansion location is imperative to ensure compliance and mitigate risks. 

Working with cross-border HR experts

Given these complexities, it is recommended for startups to work with a cross-border HR services provider. Such providers can assess the startup’s talent footprint, considering factors like jurisdictional regulations and compliance requirements. Additionally, they can offer tailored recommendations and solutions to ensure both compliance and operational efficiency in engaging ICs across borders. 

Outsourcing key HR processes can potentially reduce an organization’s total HR costs by up to 30%, according to research published by Harvard Business Review. The following two solutions can serve as effective strategies for engaging talent while maintaining compliance and operational efficiency:

Solution #1: Employer of Record (EOR)

Engaging an Employer of Record (EOR) to assume legal responsibility for employees, including compliance with tax and labor regulations, allows startups to mitigate employment risks and optimize key HR processes to support global expansion efforts.

Solution #2: Agent of Record (AOR)

For some roles and functions, it may be best for a startup to engage an IC. Agent of Record (AOR) solutions emerge as a strategic avenue for effectively managing IC engagements while ensuring compliance and operational efficiency.

An AOR is a specialized service provider that facilitates the engagement and management of ICs on behalf of companies. By leveraging the expertise of an AOR, startups can streamline the process of engaging ICs while mitigating risks and optimizing operational processes.

EOR Advantages


AOR Advantages


  • An EOR brings invaluable expertise in ensuring workers are correctly classified and all legal obligations are met. 
  • This proactive approach minimizes the risk of facing fines and penalties associated with non-compliance.
  • An AOR brings extensive knowledge and understanding of local labor laws and regulations. 
  • By partnering with an AOR, startups can ensure that their IC engagements are compliant with relevant legal requirements, minimizing the risk of fines and penalties.
Expertise & Support
  • EOR service providers offer support in various employment-related matters, including payroll, benefits administration, tax compliance and other administrative tasks. 
  • By entrusting these responsibilities to the EOR provider, startups can redirect their focus to core operations while simultaneously achieving compliance standards.
  • AOR services offer comprehensive support in managing various aspects of IC engagements, including contract negotiation, onboarding and ongoing management. 
  • With dedicated professionals overseeing IC relationships, startups can focus on core business activities.
Risk Mitigation
  • The EOR can provide oversight to ensure that workers receive the appropriate benefits and protections they are entitled to, fostering a harmonious employer-employee relationship. 
  • By entrusting IC management to an AOR, startups can mitigate misclassification risks effectively. AORs assume responsibility for ensuring that IC engagements adhere to relevant legal standards, reducing the likelihood of compliance-related challenges.
Cost-Effective Scalability
  • EOR hiring enables startups to achieve compliance while still benefiting from cost savings through optimized worker arrangements and streamlined HR processes.
  • The EOR model can be used in situations where startups need direct oversight and management of a worker’s specific tasks or projects.
  • As startups grow and evolve, their workforce needs may fluctuate. AOR solutions offer scalability and flexibility, allowing startups to adapt their IC engagements according to changing business requirements. 
  • The AOR model is ideal when startups hire specialized talent capable of managing processes independently, where direct oversight of workflows is unnecessary. 

Startup success starts with talent management

Startup success starts with talent management, as the right individuals can drive innovation, propel growth, and ultimately determine the trajectory of an organization.

Venture capitalists (VCs) are increasingly scrutinizing startup operations, including their hiring practices. VCs, in general, prioritize sustainable and compliant business practices. Therefore, demonstrating robust IC compliance can be a pivotal factor in securing their investment. On the other hand, non-compliance with IC regulations can be a red flag for many VCs and may hinder a startup’s ability to secure crucial funding for growth. 

As startups navigate the dynamic landscape of talent engagement, understanding the nuances of IC compliance and harnessing the expertise of specialized service providers are crucial steps toward sustainable growth and success in today’s competitive business environment.

By embracing a strategic approach to engaging ICs and leveraging the support of EOR and AOR solutions, startups can unlock the full potential of their workforce while minimizing legal risks and maximizing operational efficiency.

Join us for our webinar It’s a Small World: International Expansion for Startups on May 14 or download our comprehensive guide Roadmap to Global Growth for Startups. Reach out today if your startup is ready to expand into new markets around the world.