In determining whether a worker is an employee versus an independent contractor, the law focuses on the employer's control of the means and manner in which work is accomplished. The following factors also indicate an employment relationship:
Not all workers are "employees." Sometimes an employer may classify a worker as an independent contractor. This is an important distinction (unlike an employee) an independent contractor is responsible for paying 100% of his or her payroll tax. Moreover, the protections of the California Labor Code and the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act do not apply to independent contractors. Therefore, independent contractors are not entitled to be paid minimum wage or overtime, to receive meal and rest breaks, to be reimbursed for their work-related expenses, or a host of other protections (such as unemployment insurance, disability insurance, or worker's compensation) that the law ensures to employees.
An employer may classify a worker as independent contractor hoping to avoid the obligations that the law imposes on an employer. But just because the employer classifies a worker as an independent contractor, that does not necessarily mean that the worker actually is an independent contractor. Instead, California and Federal Law require that an independent-contractor relationship must exhibit certain characteristics. If those characteristics are not present in the work relationship then the worker may actually be an employee.
Whether or not a worker is an independent contractor is a complex question that requires consideration of all of these facts. Ultimately only a judge or jury can decide whether a worker is an independent contractor. However, if many the foregoing factors are apparent in a work relationship, then there is a good chance that an employer-employee relationship can be proved. Even interns and short-term workers can be considered employees if the factors identified above are present. Mr. Twietmeyer recently successfully settled a matter on behalf of an intern who was employed on a finite three-week assignment.
California law may subject employers who mis-designate employees to significant statutory and civil penalties in addition to payment of back wages, unreimbursed expenses, attorneys fees, and costs. If you believe that your employer (or your former employer) may have mis-designated you as an independent contractor, contact Mr. Twietmeyer for a free interview.