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Five years ago, Microsoft settled with a group of workers who sued the software giant claiming they had been improperly classified as independent contractors. The deal cost Microsoft $98 million. These days, as companies of all kinds try to cut costs, the temptation to shift employees to the status of contract workers is enormous. Indeed, even as the economy has shed more than 5 million jobs, the number of independent contractors has actually grown to more than 9 million, suggesting some companies are doing exactly that.

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