You researched and applied to massage therapy schools. You scoured the web on how to become a massage therapist in your state. Now you’re ready to launch into one of history’s most successful massage therapy careers! But wait… should you start as an employee or an independent contractor? Let’s take a look at the advantages and drawbacks of each option, so you can make the best choice for your LMT career path. Those establishing a spa or massage therapy clinic will also appreciate this review of options from an employer’s standpoint.

After providing context, this blog lists the pros and cons of the employee/employer relationship, from both the massage therapist and employer perspectives. For more on the advantages and disadvantages of independent contracting, read the second blog in this massage career series.   

Why business relationships matter in Massage Therapy

Should you sign up for a gig as an independent massage therapy contractor? Should you hire employees or contractors for your new massage therapy business? The answer matters because each designation is treated differently in federal, state, and local law, particularly when it comes to taxation.

Indications that You’re in an Employee/Employer Relationship

In general, state and federal agents consider the relationship to be that of an employer and employee if the business owner maintains control of multiple facets of the worker’s activities. Here are a few questions you can ask to determine the nature of the business relationship:

  • Who determines the schedule? If an LMT is directed to work a set time, such as 8-4 on Mondays, it is an employer/employee relationship.
  • Who controls the finances, including access to supplies?
  • Who controls the relationship, such as when it can be terminated?

If control is maintained by the business owner, they are considered an employer. Employers are concerned with how employees carry out work. For instance, they may require a dress code, require a particular massage protocol, or specify which lubricants you must use.  In contrast, the end result and the cost matter are the key issues when a business owner is paying an independent contractor.  If the massage therapist owns their own business, they are often working as a  contractor.

Note that the specifics around employees/contractor relationships are set by each state. Here in Oregon, massage therapy business relationships are decided by the courts according to the “economic realities” test, the factors of which include:

  • Whether the business relationship is more permanent (employee) or short-term (independent contractor).
  • Profit/loss opportunity for the worker. Independent contractors generally run their own businesses, and are therefore liable to experience profits or losses that an employee cannot.
  • Integrity of the work being done to the business. Employees generally do work that is central to the business; independent contractors do not. 

For more guidelines on Oregon business relationships, we recommend checking out the website for the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI)

Massage Therapist Considerations for working as an Employee: Pros and Cons

Ask yourself what you’re looking for in your massage therapy career. If you’d prefer:

  • To focus on massage rather than marketing,
  • To have benefits covered by your employer,
  • To have decreased responsibility for the success of the business,

consider employee status.

An additional benefit of working as an employee is having your taxes automatically taken out of your paychecks. Finally, as an employee you may accrue time off for sickness and vacations.

Employer Considerations for Hiring Employees: Pros and Cons

From an employer’s perspective, there are advantages and drawbacks of hiring a massage therapist as an employee. Disadvantages include needing to pay half of some federal benefits, including workers’ comp, social security, unemployment, and Medicare. Federal and state taxes must also be withheld from employees’ paychecks, requiring additional time and money spent on payroll. Finally, federal law requires certain rights for employees that are not guaranteed to independent contractors, such as required breaks, overtime compensation, minimum wage, and freedom from certain forms of discrimination. 

The advantages of hiring a massage employee include increased control and flexibility. If you need to shift job responsibilities quickly, it’s much easier to redirect an employee than it is to renegotiate a contract with an independent worker. Employees must accept the tasks assigned to them while contractors can choose to decline certain projects. Finally, an employee provides long-term capacity for increased workload, while a contractor may end the relationship with a business at any time, according to their contract. As such, a short-term project may be better suited to a contractor.

The bottom line is that the determination of status as an employer or independent contractor is critical for business owners and the LMTs they hire. We recommend entering into any business relationship cautiously, ensuring that you understand the requirements and nature of the position. For more information on succeeding in a new massage therapy career, we invite you to check out our current continuing education offerings