There is no set definition of the term “independent contractor” and as such, one must look to the interpretations of the courts and enforcement agencies to decide if in a particular situation a worker is an employee or independent contractor. In handling a matter where employment status is an issue, that is, employee or independent contractor, California starts with the presumption that the worker is an employee. Labor Code Section 3357. This is a rebuttable presumption however, and the actual determination of whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor depends upon several factors, all of which must be considered, and none of which is controlling by itself. Consequently, it is necessary to closely examine the facts of each service relationship and then apply the law to those facts.
For most matters before the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), depending on the remedial nature of the legislation at issue, this means applying the “multi-factor” or the “economic realities” test adopted by the California Supreme Court in the case of S. G. Borello & Sons, Inc. v Dept. of Industrial Relations (1989) 48 Cal.3d 341. In applying the economic realities test, the most significant factor to be considered is whether the person to whom service is rendered (the employer or principal) has control or the right to control the worker both as to the work done and the manner and means in which it is performed. Additional factors that may be considered depending on the issue involved are:
- Whether the person performing services is engaged in an occupation or business distinct from that of the principal;
- Whether the work is a part of the regular business of the principal or alleged employer;
- Whether the principal or the worker supplies the instrumentalities, tools, and the place for the person doing the work;
- The alleged employee’s investment in the equipment or materials required by his or her task or his or her employment of helpers;
- Whether the service rendered requires a special skill;
- The kind of occupation, regarding whether, in the locality, the work is usually done under the direction of the principal or by a specialist without supervision;
- The alleged employee’s opportunity for profit or loss depending on his or her managerial skill;
- The length of time for which the services are to be performed;
- The degree of permanence of the working relationship;
- The method of payment, whether by time or by the job; and
- Whether the parties believe they are creating an employer-employee relationship may have some bearing on the question, but is not determinative since this is a question of law based on objective tests.
Even where there is an absence of control over work details, an employer-employee relationship will be found if (1) the principal retains pervasive control over the operation (2) the worker’s duties are an integral part of the operation, and (3) the nature of the work makes detailed control unnecessary. (Yellow Cab Cooperative v. Workers Compensation Appeals Board (1991) 226 Cal.App.3d 1288)
Other points to remember in determining whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor are that the existence of a written agreement purporting to establish an independent contractor relationship is not determinative (Borello, at 349), and the fact that a worker is issued a 1099 form rather than a W-2 form is also not determinative with respect to independent contractor status. (Toyota Motor Sales v. Superior Court (1990) 220 Cal.App.3d 864, 877)
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