About 130 installation industry professionals were on hand for the 2015 International Certified Floorcovering Installers Association (CFI) convention, held recently in Dallas. Usually, the convention covers the latest in installation products and methods, along with business development sessions for installers and contractors. While time was still given to those core concepts, most of the event was about CFI reestablishing its footing after a year marked by transition.

Last August, the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) announced it had acquired CFI and named Robert Varden vice president of the division. Additionally, CFI opened a new training center near Dallas. Around the same time, the founders of CFI, Jim and Jane Walker, announced they were stepping down from the organization after 22 years. In a move to show their transparency about the hard decisions guiding CFI’s reemergence, Varden along with WFCA CEO Scott Humphrey held a town hall meeting at the convention to share their reasoning and answer any questions from attendees.

“CFI has gone through a lot of transition this year, but my level of excitement is extreme for the future of this organization and the growth before us,” Varden commented. “For the last several years, CFI has been a little bit reactive. We need to get financially stable, which is something we haven’t been for a few years. We are part of WFCA but we are still CFI, only with a better platform.”

Humphrey said WFCA had been interested in acquiring CFI because “it is a merger of two great organizations. At a time of crisis in this industry, you have clout. From this point forward, you get to create your legacy, one that will outlive all of us. You’re the solution to the problems out there in the industry—we just want to get out of your way and support it.”

Varden thanked the Walkers for their years of tireless devotion to CFI. “My image of us is we are in our infancy. We have so much opportunity, and we are so excited about the next steps. None of us would be in this room right now if not for the two individuals who are not in this room—the ones who got this organization started, Jim and Jane Walker.”

His comment was met with a standing ovation from the crowd.

Humphrey added, “We are thankful for Jim and Jane Walker. They dreamed of an organization that would influence the whole industry. We can make their dream a reality.”

Varden noted the executive board had originally questioned whether it even made sense to hold a convention in 2015, but the team ended up agreeing on it. They then put the whole show together in six weeks. “We’re so excited about this convention, and so excited to get it over with because we have so much work to do,” Varden said.

Contractor vs. employee classification 

Jeff King, WFCA counsel, gave a presentation on the Department of Labor’s reinterpretation of a law that defines what makes a worker an independent contractor as opposed to an employee. Any dealer working with contractors who are found to be employees under these rules is liable for paying taxes, back wages, insurance, Social Security, overtime and other financial penalties.

Unfortunately, the situation is muddled by conflicting definitions. “There is no single test. Each agency has its own test and each state has its own test or tests,” King explained. “Under the Department of Labor’s new interpretation, an installer pulling up with tools and a truck every morning is now most likely going to be considered an employee.”

He said there are some common-sense steps to help minimize risk. The first is to make a substantial investment in your business. “It must not be minimal compared to the dealer’s investment.” Also, you need to have the right to say no to work. “If you work continuously or repeatedly for the same dealer, and you can’t refuse work, you are going to be classified as an employee. You need to be able to refuse work, and work for other people.”

As an independent business, you also must possess not just technical skills but business skills “that show your judgment or initiative in running the business.” This also includes the ability to make a profit or incur a loss based on your running of the business.

If you can’t refuse to wear a uniform with a dealer’s logo on it, you will most likely be deemed an employee. Also, if the dealer is not letting you make your own decisions on the jobsite—called “the means and manner of performance” in legal parlance—you are most likely an employee.

King shared a few final tips. “Have a base contract, and renew it annually. Establish your business with a tax ID number and the appropriate licenses. Have an office and a telephone number. Make sure you are responsible for paying taxes and insurance. Supply all your own equipment and training.”

Finally, he added: “Don’t panic.”