FREE Case Review (866) 588-0600

Don’t Get Misclassified! Understand 1099 vs W2 in California

In California, the distinction between 1099 (independent contractor) and W-2 (employee) statuses is significant for both workers and employers, affecting taxes, benefits, and labor protections. Understanding whether you are a 1099 independent contractor or a W-2 employee is crucial for managing your tax obligations, accessing benefits, and ensuring labor protections.
Awards & recognition
Collen Clark Published by Collen Clark

1099 Independent Contractor vs. W-2 Employee in California

In California, workers are generally categorized as either employees or independent contractors, and this classification significantly affects the IRS tax forms that businesses must prepare. For instance, employees receive a completed IRS Form W-2 from their employers, detailing their earnings and tax withholdings for the year.

Independent Contractors, on the other hand, are usually provided with a completed copy of IRS Form 1099-MISC by the business that paid them. For this reason, many people refer to independent contractors as 1099 workers and traditional employees as W-2 employees in the context of taxes.

Beyond the differences in paperwork, this classification also influences important legal rights and benefits. Employees are entitled to various protections under labor laws, such as minimum wage, overtime pay, and workers’ compensation. They also typically receive benefits like health insurance and retirement plans, with taxes withheld by their employers.

Independent contractors, however, do not receive these benefits or protections and are responsible for managing their own taxes, including Social Security and Medicare, often through quarterly estimated payments. Additionally, they have greater control over how they perform their work but lack the job security and unemployment benefits available to employees.

Proper classification is crucial, as misclassification can result in significant legal and financial consequences. Understanding the distinctions between these two types of workers helps ensure compliance with California state regulations.

1099 Independent Contractor

  1. Tax Responsibilities:
  • Self-Employment Taxes: Contractors are responsible for paying their own Social Security and Medicare taxes.
  • Quarterly Tax Payments: Must make estimated tax payments throughout the year.
  • No Withholding: Employers do not withhold taxes from payments.

2. Benefits and Protections:

  • No Employee Benefits: Contractors do not receive health insurance, retirement plans, paid leave, or other employee benefits.
  • Limited Labor Protections: Independent contractors are not covered by many labor laws, including minimum wage, overtime, and workers’ compensation.

3. Control and Flexibility:

  • Project-Based Work: Contractors often work on specific projects with defined deadlines.
  • Work Autonomy: They have greater control over how and when work is performed.

4. Contracts:

  • Written Agreements: Usually operate under a contract specifying the scope of work and payment terms.

W-2 Employee

  1. Tax Responsibilities:
  • Employer Withholding: Employers withhold federal and state income taxes, Social Security, and Medicare taxes from employees’ paychecks.
  • Simplified Tax Filing: Employees receive a W-2 form summarizing their earnings and tax withholdings for the year.

2. Benefits and Protections:

  • Employee Benefits: Eligible for health insurance, retirement plans, paid time off, and other benefits.
  • Labor Protections: Covered by labor laws, including minimum wage, overtime pay, family leave, and workers’ compensation.

3. Control and Flexibility:

  • Employer Control: Employers dictate work hours, job duties, and how tasks are performed.
  • Job Security: Employees typically have more job security and may receive unemployment benefits if laid off.

4. Contracts:

  • Employment Agreement: May have an employment contract outlining job responsibilities and compensation, but generally subject to ongoing employer policies and procedures.

1. ABC Test: California uses the ABC Test to determine if a worker is an independent contractor [2]:

  • A: The worker is free from the control and direction of the hirer in connection with the performance of the work.
  • B: The worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.
  • C: The worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business.

2. AB 5 Law: Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5) codifies the ABC Test into law, making it harder for companies to classify workers as independent contractors. Exemptions exist for certain professions.

3. Misclassification Penalties: Misclassifying employees as independent contractors can result in significant penalties, including back taxes, fines, and liability for unpaid benefits and protections.


In California, if you report your income on a Form 1099, you are an independent contractor, while if you report it on a W-2 form, you are an employee. Payroll taxes are automatically withheld if you are a W-2 employee; meanwhile, if you are an independent contractor, you are responsible for paying them. If you are a W-2 employee, you can also receive employment benefits, such as worker’s compensation and minimum wage protections.

Understanding whether you are a 1099 independent contractor or a W-2 employee in California is crucial for managing your tax obligations, accessing benefits, and ensuring labor protections. If you’re unsure of your classification, it’s advisable to consult with a legal professional to ensure compliance with state laws and avoid potential penalties.

Related Articles:

See all related personal injury and accident lawsuits our lawyers have taken on.

Get a Free Lawsuit Evaluation With Our Lawyers

The Litigation Group at Schmidt & Clark, LLP is an experienced team of trial lawyers that focuses on the representation of plaintiffs in lawsuits. We are handling individual litigation nationwide and are currently accepting new legal challenges in all 50 states.

If you or a loved one was involved with these matters, you should contact our law firm immediately for a free case evaluation. You may be entitled to a settlement by filing a suit and we can help.



Free Confidential Case Evaluation

Verified 100% Secure SiteTo contact us for a free review of your potential case, please fill out the form below or call us toll free 24 hrs/day by dialing: (866) 588-0600.