California Landmark Cases on Employee and Independent Contractor Distinction

The Case Law Governing the Employee/Independent Contractor Distinction: The distinction between an employee and an independent contractor is a significant one: With some exceptions, an employer is vicariously liable for the negligent acts of its employees, but not of its independent contractors. (S. G. Borello & Sons, Inc. v. Department of Industrial Relations (1989) 48 Cal.3d 341, 350 (Borello) "The distinction between independent contractors and employees arose at common law to limit one's vicarious liability for the misconduct of a person rendering service to him."; Weiss v. Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. (1988) 204 Cal.App.3d 1094, 1100 noting "general rule refusing to impose vicarious liability for the negligence of an independent contractor".) Accordingly, there is a rich body of case law discussing when a worker is an "employee" or an "independent contractor." The "seminal case" (Truesdale v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd. (1987) 190 Cal.App.3d 608, 615) addressing the employee/independent contractor distinction is Empire Star Mines Co. v. Cal. Emp. Com. (1946) 28 Cal.2d 33 (Empire Star), disapproved on other grounds in People v. Sims (1982) 32 Cal.3d 468, 479-480, footnote 8. The Supreme Court again addressed the employee/independent contractor distinction in Malloy v. Fong (1951) 37 Cal.2d 356. The Supreme Court revisited the factors relevant to distinguishing employees from independent contractors in Tieberg v. Unemployment Ins. App. Bd. (1970) 2 Cal.3d 943. See also: Cristler v. Express Messenger Systems, Inc. (2009) 171 Cal.App.4th 72, 85, approving instruction that told the jury that in determining whether plaintiff truckdrivers were employees or independent contractors, it must " 'consider a number of factors' " and " 'weigh all of these factors based on the evidence that you have heard' "; Estrada v. FedEx Ground Package System, Inc. (2007) 154 Cal.App.4th 1, trial court correctly applied multifactor Borello test in determining that drivers were employees, not independent contractors, for limited purpose of their entitlement to reimbursement for work-related expenses; Air Couriers Internat. v. Employment Development Dept. (2007) 150 Cal.App.4th 923 59 Cal. Rptr. 3d 37 multifactor Borello test applied in employment tax context; Ali v. L.A. Focus Publication (2003) 112 Cal.App.4th 1477, multifactor test applied to determine whether plaintiff was an employee and, hence, permitted to assert wrongful termination claim; State Compensation Ins. Fund v. Brown (1995) 32 Cal.App.4th 188, 202, multifactor test applied to conclude that, for unemployment insurance purposes, contract truckdrivers were independent contractors as a matter of law;