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1099 Laws in California

California, known for its vibrant economy and entrepreneurial spirit, has specific labor laws in place to protect workers and ensure fair employment practices. If you are a business owner or an independent contractor operating in California, it is crucial to understand the regulations surrounding the use of 1099 forms. This is especially true if you are a staffing firm working in California or one providing temporary and contract staff within the state of CA. In this blog post, we will delve into the details of the 1099 laws in California and shed light on their implications for both employers and independent contractors.

  • The Basics of 1099 Forms:

The 1099 form is a tax document used to report income received by individuals who are not traditional employees. Independent contractors, freelancers, and self-employed individuals often receive 1099 forms instead of W-2 forms, which are used for reporting employee wages. These forms are submitted to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the California Employment Development Department (EDD) to ensure proper tax compliance.

  • Independent Contractor vs. Employee Classification:

One of the critical aspects of the 1099 laws in California revolves around the classification of workers. The state follows a stringent test known as the “ABC test” to determine whether a worker should be classified as an employee or an independent contractor. This test, derived from Assembly Bill 5 (AB5), sets specific criteria that must be met for a worker to be classified as an independent contractor.

  • The three criteria of the ABC test are as follows:

    • A: The worker is free from control and direction in the performance of services.
    • 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.

It is crucial for employers to carefully evaluate these criteria when engaging independent contractors to ensure compliance with the law.

  • Assembly Bill 2257:

Assembly Bill 2257 (AB2257) was enacted in September 2020 as an amendment to AB5, clarifying certain exemptions and modifying the ABC test. AB2257 provides an expanded list of exemptions for specific professions and industries, making it easier for some individuals to qualify as independent contractors.

The exemptions under AB2257 include professions such as photographers, writers, editors, certain musicians, recording artists, and more. It is important to consult legal counsel or the California Labor Commissioner’s office to understand the applicability of these exemptions to your specific situation.

  • Implications for Employers:

Employers in California must be diligent in correctly classifying their workers to avoid legal complications and potential penalties. Misclassifying an employee as an independent contractor can lead to fines, back wages, and other liabilities. It is advisable for employers to consult legal professionals who specialize in employment law to ensure compliance with the state’s labor regulations.

  • Implications for Independent Contractors:

Independent contractors must be aware of their rights and responsibilities under California law. While being classified as an independent contractor offers certain freedoms, such as flexibility and the ability to set their own rates, it also means they are responsible for paying self-employment taxes and are not entitled to benefits typically provided to employees, such as workers’ compensation or unemployment insurance.

It is crucial for independent contractors to keep detailed records of their income and expenses, file accurate tax returns, and stay informed about changes in the law that may impact their status or obligations.

Compliance for Staffing Firms

While it is very tempting to classify employees and contracted staff as 1099s in order to improve margins, it exposes countless staffing firms to heavy risks every year. Those risks include back taxes, unpaid overtime, and punitive fines that the government will impose if you are caught misclassifying workers. In one recent example a small staffing firm paid $142360 for misclassifying workers in California. As an agency owner or leader, you do not want to face those charges. But worse, you don’t want to ruin your firm’s reputation. 

So if you aren’t able to support W2 placements in California, or you do not want to manage the compliance components, an Employer of Record (EOR) partner is a great option. The EOR will take on the duties of the employer, so that the staffing firm can support clients without the risks and burdens of misclassification compliance.


Understanding the 1099 laws in California is vital for both employers and independent contractors operating in the state. The proper classification of workers, compliance with tax regulations, and awareness of exemptions are essential to avoid legal issues and ensure a fair working environment.

To navigate the complexities of the 1099 laws, it is advisable to seek guidance from legal professionals well-versed in California employment law. By staying informed and compliant, employers and independent contractors can foster a mutually beneficial working relationship while adhering to the labor laws of the state.

Remember, this blog post serves as a general overview and should not be considered legal advice.

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