An individual who is sales representatives of a number of companies may not be an employee of any of them, but is an independent contractor. For example, a manufacturer’s representative for furniture companies may have a lamp line, a dining room table line, and an upholstery chair and couch line, and sells all of these types of furniture from different manufacturers to various retail furniture stores. The New Hampshire legislature recognized the need to protect the sales commissions of those independent contractors and established RSA 339-E. This statute permits the sales representative, when in litigation, to recoup his attorney’s fees and costs as well as permitting the Court authority to award up to three times the commission owed. Further, that statute requires that the company enter into a written agreement with the sales representative clearly setting forth the commission, when it is due, and to provide a copy to the sales representative. Any provision in the contract that attempts to force the sales representative to only sue in a state other than New Hampshire is void so the contract could still be enforced by the sales representative with him suing in New Hampshire. The company is not allowed by contract to waive any of the rights of the sales representative in the statute even if he agrees in writing that he has knowingly and voluntarily waived those provisions. That waiver is still void. For an individual contract sales representative that is owed commission, RSA 339-E can be a powerful tool to see that commissions are promptly and timely paid since the alternative of going to court could be costly for the company that owes the commission.
For sales representatives that like the idea of being an independent contractor, perhaps because they can represent a variety of companies to sell a variety of products and have more autonomy, they should consider in that analysis of whether to become a separate legal entity such as a corporation or a limited liability company. This statute only applies to independent contractor sales representatives who are individuals and not a limited liability company, a corporation, or other legal entity. A separate legal entity may get the sales representative more or better clients yet in doing the sales work through that legal entity the sales representative has no rights under this statute, which only applies to individuals. For companies that have individuals who are independent contractor sales representatives doing business in this state, they will want in writing in any contract, which is signed by the sales representative, to clearly state how and when the commission is due. For example: if a company does not want to pay any commission until and unless the product is shipped and paid for, the contract should clearly set forth that understanding in the expressed terms of the contract. Companies may also wish to insist that independent contractor sales representatives are legal entities in that if they are individuals, not only do they risk potential liability under RSA 339-E if they fail to pay the commission, even if they have every intent on paying the commissions, the company may have a better argument in any subsequent legal challenge by a governmental agency as to whether the independent contractor sales representatives are truly employees if the sales representatives are providing their services under a separate legal entity such as a corporation or a limited liability company. So the company may prefer to not merely retain as an independent contractor Bob Jones, Sales Representative, but retain Jones Sales Solutions, Inc. of which Bob Jones, who provides the sales services to the company, does so as a shareholder and agent of Jones Sales Solutions, Inc.
J. Daniel Marr is a Director and Shareholder at Hamblett & Kerrigan, P.A. His legal practice includes counseling businesses and individuals on a variety of legal issues and advocating on their behalf. Attorney Marr is licensed and practices in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Attorney Marr can be reached at [email protected].