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Who Qualifies for Workers' Compensation in California?

Written by
A drawing of the lead workers' compensation lawyer for Atticus.
Victoria Muñoz
Lead Attorney
May 30, 2024  ·  2 min read
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See if you qualify

In California, employees who get hurt or sick on the job can get worker’s compensation to cover their lost wages and medical bills as they recover. Employers must buy workers’ compensation coverage under the law so workers can get this support for free, but not all workers qualify for workers’ comp benefits.

Who does workers’ comp cover in California?

California workers’ comp covers regular employees who have their taxes withheld in their paychecks. These workers include:

  • Full-time employees

  • Part-time employees

  • Seasonal employees

  • Temporary workers

A good indicator of whether you can get workers’ comp is if you get a W-2 form when tax season comes around. Getting this document means that your employer withholds some of your taxes and classifies you as an employee with the government.

Business owners who buy workers’ comp insurance for their employees can also get benefits if something happens to them.

Who isn’t covered by California workers’ comp

Contractors and workers who aren’t legally classified as employees don’t qualify for California workers’ comp through their employer.

Generally, if your employer sends you a 1099 form during tax season, they categorize you as a contractor. Employees receive a W-2 form because their employer withholds taxes, while contractors usually get a Form 1099-MISC or Form 1099-NEC without any taxes removed.

Here are some examples of people who don’t qualify for workers’ comp:

  • Freelancers

  • Gig workers, like Lyft and Uber drivers

  • Independent contractors

  • Interns

  • Self-employed workers

  • Volunteers (volunteer firefighters do qualify for benefits)

  • Workers paid in cash or under the table

State employees will need to apply through the state itself and federal employees must file through the Department of Labor. Railroad employees get coverage for work injuries under the Federal Employees Liability Act (FELA).

Why am I an independent contractor?

Being a contractor versus an employee is a legal distinction that your employer makes, but companies aren’t always correct. For example, some employers misclassify W-2 workers as 1099 workers to avoid providing benefits like overtime pay, health insurance, and workers’ compensation.

If your employer treats you like a full-time employee, you could actually qualify even if they say you’re a contractor. California defines independent contractors with the ABC test. If the following are true for you, you’re likely an independent contractor under the law. If they’re false, you may be an employee.

  • Part A: The business that hired you doesn’t have control over the details surrounding how you do work, such as when or where you perform your job.

  • Part B: You do work that falls outside of the business’s typical course of work, such as a construction contractor fixing a building for a non-construction business.

  • Part C: You are part of an independently established business through practices like getting an LLC or marketing yourself as your own business.

Not all situations are clear-cut and it can be hard to use these definitions on their own. If you need help figuring out if you qualify for workers’ comp due to employee status, consult a workers’ comp lawyer. If they can’t help you, talking to an employment lawyer is your next best option.

Can you get benefits if you’re undocumented?

If you’re an undocumented resident, you can still get workers’ comp as long as you’re an employee and have an injury that qualifies. Don’t let your residential status get in the way of receiving the benefits you’re entitled to.

Checking if your company offers workers’ comp

Employers who have coverage are legally required to post a document sharing their insurance’s contact information in your working space. You can also check if your employer has workers’ comp coverage by searching for them with this tool.

Get help filing a workers’ comp claim

You can file a workers’ comp claim in California by reporting your injury to your employer, filling out form DWC-1 with them, and getting the medical care you need. The Division of Workers’ Compensation’s official website and Information and Assistance Unit offices can also offer guidance during this process.

If you need professional help with your claim, talk with a workers’ comp lawyer. These specialized lawyers can be especially helpful in cases where you have trouble with your claim, such as if it gets denied or if you aren’t getting your full benefits.

Atticus is a Los Angeles-based law firm with local lawyers across the state. To get answers to your questions and see if a lawyer could help start with our quick questionnaire. We’ll reach out to learn more about your situation and help you find a lawyer who’s a fit for your case. Talking to Atticus is free and your first consultation with one of our lawyers is also free.

Get workers' comp help today.

Frequently asked questions: workers’ comp in California

How do I file a workers’ comp claim in California?

To file for workers’ comp in California, you need to give your employer written notice of your injury within 30 days. They should give you Form DWC 1 and you have one year to fill it out. Learn more in our full guide to filing for California workers’ comp.

How much does workers’ comp pay in California?

California workers’ comp pays up to two-thirds of your pre-injury wages, but there is a minimum payment of $242.86 per week in 2024. Read more about how much workers’ comp pays in each state.

When does workers' comp start paying in California?

There is a three-day waiting period before you’re eligible to receive workers’ comp medical coverage in California, and your weekly payments start after your application (Form DWC 1) is approved. Here's more on how long you'll wait for benefits.

How long can I be on workers’ comp pay in California?

You can generally be on California workers’ comp for up to 104 weeks, but your payments will end sooner if you reach maximum medical improvement (MMI). Here’s more on how long benefits last.

Can I work on workers' comp in California?

You can do light-duty or modified-duty work while on workers’ comp and as long as you stay within your treating physician’s instructions, there’s no strict limit on how many hours you can work. Learn more about working while on California workers’ comp.

Where do I find a California workers' comp settlement chart?

Start with our guide to 2024 pay rates for California workers’ comp. It covers how much to expect from weekly payments as well as mileage reimbursement and death benefits.

Related resources:

California Workers' Comp: Everything You Need to Know

A hand draw portrait of a smiling, helpful lawyer.
By Victoria Muñoz

Your Guide to California Workers’ Comp Settlements

A hand draw portrait of a smiling, helpful lawyer.
By Victoria Muñoz

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A drawing of the lead workers' compensation lawyer for Atticus.

Victoria Muñoz

Lead Attorney

Victoria Muñoz is an attorney on Atticus’s Workers' Compensation team. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of Stanford Law School, and has counseled hundreds of people seeking workers' compensation. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and spending time with her pup.
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