Key Points of the Independent Contractor Law in California

Updated October 13, 2023
11 min read
Key Points of the Independent Contractor Law in California


Understanding California's independent contractor law is vital for businesses, workers, and contractors. The following article answers the question, "What is the new independent contractor law in California?" and helps you to form a comprehensive understanding of its legal implications.

Explanation of the California Independent Contractor Law

At its core, the California independent contractor law provides exact directives to establish if workers are categorized as independent contractors or employees. This distinction is far from trivial due to its broad implications. For instance, under the California independent contractor law, an employee enjoys comprehensive job protections, including minimum wage stipulations, workers' compensation benefits, overtime pay, and suitable rest breaks. On the other hand, California law independent contractors are typically exempted from such employment protections.

To exemplify, consider a construction firm hiring an individual for a temporary project. If the individual is classified as an employee under the California independent contractor law, the employer would have to adhere to various labor laws, providing at least the state-mandated minimum wage, overtime pay for work beyond 40 hours a week, rest breaks, and other similar benefits.

However, if the same individual is classified as an independent contractor, the hiring firm is not obligated to offer these benefits. The hired professional will sign a specific agreement, furnish their services as per the agreement terms, and wouldn't typically be entitled to employee benefits.

The conditions of work for each group also differ significantly. Employees work under employer-structured conditions with rules of conduct, predetermined working hours, use of specific machinery, etc. In stark contrast, California law independent contractors usually work on their own terms with more control over how they perform their services.

In essence, the California independent contractor law delineates the boundary between employees and independent contractors, directly influencing workers' rights, job conditions, and the liabilities for businesses.

Definitions and key terms

The California independent contractor law distinctly categorizes workers into two essential sections: independent contractors and employees. Understanding these definitions is crucial for the successful operation within the parameters of business law. Here are the key terms:

  • Independent contractors: Under the California independent contractor law, independent contractors stand as professionals providing services under predetermined agreements. A common example is a freelancer hired for a specific project under terms outlined in an independent contractor agreement template. These individuals maintain control over how they execute their work in terms of methodology and timing.

  • Employees: In contrast, the California independent contractor law construes employees under a different lens. An employee typically has stipulated work arrangements and functions under an employer's direct control and supervision. These arrangements mirror structured roles within a traditional company, where tasks, working hours, and methods of performing work are outlined by the employer.

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Significance of the California Independent Contractor Law

The California independent contractor law's significant appeal lies in deciding which workers fall under the aegis of California labor and employment laws. Duly recognized employees receive wide-ranging employment rights and benefits, including minimum wage, overtime payments, reimbursement for expenses, rest breaks, and workers' compensation coverage.

Differences Between Employee and Independent Contractor

Under the California independent contractor law, distinctions between independent contractors and employees are clear. These differences shape various aspects, including the working conditions, rights, and benefits of the workers. Consequently, it is crucial to accurately categorize a worker as either an employee or an independent contractor due to the substantial implications that may follow. Key differences under the law include:

  • Control over work: Under California independent contractor law, an employer maintains inherent control over an employee's work, dictating both what will be done and how it will be completed. Conversely, independent contractors enjoy a significant level of control over their work, allowing them to determine the most effective methods of achieving the end result.

  • Provision of tools and materials: While employers typically provide the necessary tools and materials required by an employee to carry out duties, an independent contractor furnishes their own tools and equipment as they deem necessary.

  • Flexibility of work schedule: Another pivotal difference under the California independent contractor law lies within the flexibility of work schedules. Employees usually adhere to set schedules allocated by their employers, while independent contractors maintain more freedom to choose their work hours.

  • Compensation and benefits: An employee is entitled to a pre-arranged salary or hourly wage, apart from other benefits provided by their employer. Independent contractors, under California independent contractor law, typically agree to a fixed price for their completed work and do not receive additional benefits from their clients.

Recognizing these differences is critical under California independent contractor law, as misclassification could lead to severe penalties for businesses.

ABC Test Under California Independent Contractor Law

The 'ABC' test, marked as a crucial part of the California independent contractor law, transformed the approach to worker classification. As a tripartite testing system, it accurately determines a worker's status as an independent contractor. To be deemed an independent contractor under California regulations, the following three conditions must be demonstrated:

  • The worker operates without interference or supervision from the hiring party while executing their duties.

  • The conducted work falls outside the customary scope of the hiring entity's operations.

  • The worker actively engages in a self-established industry or profession that aligns with the nature of the work carried out.

Penalties Under the California Independent Contractor Law

The California independent contractor law has stringent implementation regarding non-compliance. Any business that mistakenly classifies an employee as an independent contractor faces severe repercussions under this law. The penalties can vary from $5,000 to $25,000 per violation if the court or labor department determines that the employer has engaged in a "pattern or practice" of violations. Moreover, they may owe back payments for wages, overtime, and potentially compensation for work-related expenses and meal periods that were not provided. It's a reminder of the paramount importance of correct worker classification under California law.


Understanding the California independent contractor law forms a critical component for both businesses and workers. It not only provides a framework for worker classification but also ensures fair labor practices are maintained. To help with the legal intricacies, Lawrina, a reliable legal tech ecosystem, provides comprehensive legal resources, contract templates, and a platform to connect with experienced business attorneys.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the AB-5 law in California?

Assembly Bill 5, known as AB-5, is a pivotal provision of the California independent contractor law, established in 2020. It essentially reshapes the boundaries of independent contracting by applying the 'ABC' test for worker classification. This has placed more stringent restrictions on the criteria for the classification of workers as independent contractors. 


For instance, under AB-5, a worker can only be classified as an independent contractor if they perform tasks outside the hiring entity's core business, which is a stark change from previous regulations.

What are the penalties for misclassifying employees in California?

Misclassification of employees as independent contractors can have serious repercussions under the California independent contractor law. Violating businesses could face civil penalties between $5,000 to $25,000 for each violation. 


The law also lays forth additional penalties, like 1.5% of the employee's wages and up to 25% of the employee's misclassified wages. These penalties accentuate the necessity of complying with the law and correctly classifying workers.

How is an independent contractor different from an employee in California?

California independent contractor law outlines clear distinctions between independent contractors and employees. Independent contractors perform their services under their terms, demonstrating a high level of autonomy. They usually undertake work that falls outside the hiring entity's mainstream business. 

Employees, on the other hand, work under the hiring entity's direct control, supervising their work methods, schedules, and other key aspects of their work. Examples might include salespeople operating under a company's brand and guidelines, compared to a freelance graphic designer hired for a one-off project by the same company.