Independent Contractor Classification Changes Expected to Impact Construction Industry

Author, David J. Garcia, AAI, CRIS, President, Rancho Mesa Insurance Services, Inc.

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With the recent ruling by the California Supreme Court concerning how 1099 employees (independent contractors) are defined, the construction industry's approach to utilizing these workers has changed significantly. The Court adopted a new test to determine whether the worker should be classified as an employee or independent contractor. The previous test to determine if a worker was an employee or independent contractor was whether the employer had the right to direct the manner and means by which the worker performed the services. Under the new test, a worker is considered to be an independent contractor only if all three of the following factors are present:

  1. The worker must be free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of the work and in fact; 
  2. The worker must perform work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entities business;
  3. The worker must be customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as that involved in the work performed.

These new factors have major implications for contractors, or any business for that matter, where previously they had classified a worker as an independent contractor and now have to classify them as an employee. This will impact several lines of insurance, but most critically workers' compensation, general liability and employee benefits.

Workers' Compensation

Currently, if an employee is classified as an independent contractor, they would not be subject to any workers' compensation premium nor workers' compensation benefits. If their status should change to employee, they now would be entitled to workers' compensation benefits and would have their payroll accounted for in the employer’s premium. In addition, based on the work being performed, this may change the employer’s risk profile, creating negative underwriting consequences in the workers' compensation carrier marketplace, resulting in coverage not being offered or higher premiums.

General Liability

The impact to general liability insurance is very similar to that of workers' compensation. Additional payroll or sales will need to be accounted for as the employer will become directly responsible for the work being performed without the benefit of any hold harmless agreement or other risk transfer methods. This could potentially change the risk profile of the employer’s operations, which could result in the employer needing to provide additional underwriting information.

Employee Benefits

Since 1099 contract workers are not employees and are considered self-employed, they do not show on the Quarterly Wage and Withholding Report (DE9 and DE9C) to the State of California. Because of this status, they typically cannot enroll in a group health insurance plan. Many workers who are now classified as independent contractors will be considered employees in the eyes of the state and will be eligible for group benefit offerings from their employer.

Employers may need to reevaluate their group size to ensure that they remain compliant with the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Employers with 50 or more full-time employees working a minimum of 30 hours per week, and/or full-time equivalents (FTEs) must offer health insurance that is affordable and provides minimum value to 95% of their full-time employees and their children up to age 26, or be subject to penalties.

While these changes are new and just beginning to take affect, we believe your best strategy moving forward is to consult with your trusted advisors in legal, accounting and risk management. This will have a significant impact to the construction industry throughout California and we intend to take a leadership role in helping those companies with concerns and questions. So, please reach out to our Rancho Mesa Team to help you navigate these changes. Contact Alyssa Burley at for assistance.