Are Substitute Teachers Employees or Independent Contractors?

Content provided for general information. Talk to your tax advisor to confirm the details for your specific situation before taking action.

Most substitute teachers are employees. Some are hired as independent contractors.

When is a substitute teacher an employee?

Substitute teachers are often hired by a school district or school as employees.

Hiring subs as employees is the norm because it fits the usual rules for employees.

Even though subs are often part-time workers, the school district or school determines where they go and when.

If you filled out a W-4 and receive a W-2 at the end of the year, you were hired as an employee.

When is a substitute teacher an independent contractor?

Hiring substitute teachers as independent contractors is more common in private schools or very small school districts.

Hiring subs as independent contractors usually comes with an expectation that they are or could be working for multiple hiring entities.

For example, a sub may be on the list for multiple private schools that aren’t affiliated with each other.

School district subs that rotate between schools in the same district usually aren’t independent contractors because the school district is the employer.

If you filled out a W-9 and receive a 1099 at the end of the year, you were hired as an independent contractor.

If you believe you were incorrectly classified as an independent contractor, you may want to fill out IRS Form SS-8 or talk to your tax advisor.

Note: State or local law may deem substitute teachers independent contractors for workers’ compensation purposes. The IRS follows separate rules under federal tax law for determining whether subs are independent contractors for tax purposes.

Can substitute teachers claim unemployment?

To be potentially eligible for unemployment, substitute teachers generally need to be employees.

Independent contractors usually aren’t eligible for unemployment.

In many places, substitute teachers can’t claim unemployment during the summer break or other vacations.

Employees who are on continuing contracts and have reasonable assurance that they can return to return to the same job after a seasonal break often aren’t eligible for unemployment.

Some states do make subs and even permanent teachers eligible for unemployment during the summer.

Subs who are fired or receive reduced work during the school year may be eligible for unemployment depending on the circumstances.

If you do receive unemployment benefits, you’ll likely need to pay taxes.

Can substitute teachers deduct mileage?

Substitute teachers generally can’t deduct mileage.


Employees aren’t usually eligible for mileage deductions or other business expense deductions.

If your school district pays for mileage, they may be able to exclude it from your taxable income in some situations.

Independent Contractors

Independent contractors would usually fall under non-deductible commuting mileage.

Commuting between your home and a single school you regularly work for would almost never be deductible.

If you work for multiple schools, you would usually fall under the continuous temporary workplaces rule.

Under the continuous temporary workplaces rule, if you don’t have a specific work location, traveling to various work locations within your metro area would normally not be deductible.

If you have a primary school you sub for but occasionally sub for a farther away school, you may be able to deduct mileage when you go to the farther school.

If you drive between schools during the day, those trips would usually be deductible. Those are trips between business locations rather than commutes to or from home.

If you have potential mileage deductions, you can use a mileage tracking app to make tracking your deductions easy.

Can substitute teachers claim the educator expense deduction?

Substitute teachers may be eligible for the educator expense deduction. You usually have to have worked at least 900 hours for primary or secondary schools.

You’ll also need to have qualifying expenses such as professional development courses, books, supplies, classroom materials, or supplies used to protect you from COVID-19.

Don’t forget to save your receipts.

Can subs write off clothes on taxes?

Clothing expenses are usually not deductible for substitute teachers.

  • Employees haven’t been able to take clothing deductions as itemized deductions since the 2018 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
  • Independent contractors can usually only deduct clothing they can’t wear for other uses.

Even if you buy something like a school logo polo shirt, you can wear that outside of school.

Specific protective clothing, such as for science, shop, or art classes, may be deductible under the educator expenses deduction for employees or as a business expense for independent contractors.


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