The Maine Joint Enforcement Task Force on Employee Misclassification announced a series of information and outreach initiatives aimed at educating Maine businesses and workers on laws pertaining to the hiring of independent contractors.

Representatives from the task force will be in Rockland on Oct. 5 for a presentation on legal issues pertaining to worker misclassification — a practice that occurs when employers hire workers as independent contractors when legally they should be classified for employees. The event will be held at the Rockland CareerCenter at 5 p.m. The public is invited and no registration is necessary.

Other forums are planned, including:

• Wilton CareerCenter, 5 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 10

• Presque Isle CareerCenter, 4 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 24

• Machias CareerCenter, 5 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 21

• Biddeford (location to be announced), 5 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 19

• Augusta CareerCenter, 5 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 16

“Worker misclassification is a growing problem, although the laws regulating the practice are not new,” said Maine Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman, in a news release. “Many employers just aren’t aware of their legal obligations when they hire independent contractors.”

A 2005 study by the Construction Policy Institute at Harvard University estimated that 11 percent of Maine employers misclassify workers. The Maine Department of Labor will release updated audit findings later this summer.

The task force was established by executive order by Gov. John Baldacci in 2009 and the panel is charged with developing strategies to increase public awareness of misclassification and to coordinate state response. A majority of states, including every New England state, have developed similar task forces to address worker misclassification.

The Maine task force recently developed new publications for employers and workers explaining laws covering the employment of independent contractors and highlighting the effect of worker misclassification on the greater economy. Those brochures have been distributed at regional information sessions recently held for Maine businesses and tax professionals. They are also available on the task force Web site, maine.gov/labor/misclass.

Worker misclassification often leads to employers or workers evading legal obligations under employment and tax laws, including laws governing minimum wage, overtime, prevailing wage, unemployment insurance, income taxes, workers’ compensation insurance, temporary disability, wage payment, and child support.

“Misclassification is harmful to Maine businesses that are playing by the rules,” said Fortman. “Companies that misclassify workers place law-abiding businesses at a competitive disadvantage by shifting the cost of unpaid taxes and insurance premiums to businesses that are complying with the law, as well as the general public.”

Misclassified workers may lose out on state and federal employment protections, including unemployment insurance, minimum wage and overtime, family and medical leave, and occupational safety and health regulations. Misclassified workers may not be covered by workers’ compensation insurance and are not covered by employer-provided benefits like health insurance, retirement plans, and vacation and sick leave.