Does California’s AB5 affect freelance software developers? If they own their own company (registered as Inc.) then they obviously are not looking to become an employee. They started their company to have autonomy and deliver work as they see fit. Does AB5 force them to no longer own a company and instead become an employee?

  • 1
    For those of us who are unfamiliar with AB5, could you include a link and/or a brief description of its provisions?
    – phoog
    Dec 18, 2019 at 18:16
  • 1
    See link in question for provisions and history.
    – Cybernetic
    Dec 18, 2019 at 18:21
  • Thanks. I don't have time to read it thoroughly or write a detailed answer, but I suspect that the answer is that the bill means that they are entitled to certain legal protections as if they were employees even if they are working as contractors, and that this does not create a requirement for them to change the legal relationship with the company for whom they are working.
    – phoog
    Dec 18, 2019 at 18:29
  • @phoog, that's disingenuous, because part of the effect of the bill is to make companies no longer willing to employ freelance contractors; because of the hassle it entails, they no longer get any particular benefit by going to contractors rather than simply hiring a full-time employee to do the work. (Yes, this is a simplification, but the effects of the law are quite nasty in actual practice; I've seen some of them already. E.g. performing artists out of work.)
    – Wildcard
    Dec 24, 2019 at 1:15
  • @Wildcard it’s not disingenuous, because the point of AB5 is not to stop companies using contractors, it’s to stop companies using contractors as employees instead of full time workers. It’s essentially the same as IR35 in the UK - if the worker looks and feels like a full time employee, then they should be a full time employee and not a contractor.
    – user28517
    Dec 24, 2019 at 3:49

1 Answer 1


This is a duck

A duck

I might want this duck to work for me laying duck eggs (only not this duck because it's a boy duck). If I call this duck a chicken; it's still a duck.

Similarly, the duck may call itself a chicken. It may even believe it's a chicken. It's still a duck.

Now, I might want to call the duck a chicken because ducks have fewer workplace rights than chickens. Similarly, the duck might want to be a chicken because chickens can be more ... creative ... with their taxes; they might even be able to funnel their income through special C-corporations (C is for chicken). It's still a duck.

The law doesn't care what you call your relationship or even what you think your relationship is - it cares about what it actually is.

Is a freelance software developer a duck or a chicken?

The actual law can be found here. Starting from the beginning:

2750.3. (a) (1) For purposes of the provisions of this code and the Unemployment Insurance Code, and for the wage orders of the Industrial Welfare Commission, a person providing labor or services for remuneration shall be considered an employee rather than an independent contractor unless the hiring entity demonstrates that all of the following conditions are satisfied:

(A) The person is 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.

(B) The person performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.

(C) The person is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as that involved in the work performed.

So a freelance software developer who is working without their client's "control and direction" about when, where and how they do their work (obviously, direction on the final product is OK), for a client who doesn't normally develop that type of software (e.g. writing a website for a hairdresser or even writing accounting software for a computer game developer but not writing computer games for a computer game developer) and that there exists such a 'thing' as independent software developers (which there are) can be correctly classified as a contractor. A person who goes into a software house to work on their in-house code is an employee.

So after the initial classification, there is a bundle of exemptions and exceptions. None of them are particularly relevant until we get to:

(e) Subdivision (a) and the holding in Dynamex do not apply to a bona fide business-to-business contracting relationship, as defined below, under the following conditions:

(1) If a business entity formed as a sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company, limited liability partnership, or corporation (“business service provider”) contracts to provide services to another such business (“contracting business”), the determination of employee or independent contractor status of the business services provider shall be governed by Borello, if the contracting business demonstrates that all of the following criteria are satisfied:

(A) The business service provider is free from the control and direction of the contracting business entity in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of the work and in fact.

(B) The business service provider is providing services directly to the contracting business rather than to customers of the contracting business.

(C) The contract with the business service provider is in writing.

(D) If the work is performed in a jurisdiction that requires the business service provider to have a business license or business tax registration, the business service provider has the required business license or business tax registration.

(E) The business service provider maintains a business location that is separate from the business or work location of the contracting business.

(F) The business service provider is customarily engaged in an independently established business of the same nature as that involved in the work performed.

(G) The business service provider actually contracts with other businesses to provide the same or similar services and maintains a clientele without restrictions from the hiring entity.

(H) The business service provider advertises and holds itself out to the public as available to provide the same or similar services.

(I) The business service provider provides its own tools, vehicles, and equipment to perform the services.

(J) The business service provider can negotiate its own rates.

(K) Consistent with the nature of the work, the business service provider can set its own hours and location of work.

(L) The business service provider is not performing the type of work for which a license from the Contractor’s State License Board is required, pursuant to Chapter 9 (commencing with Section 7000) of Division 3 of the Business and Professions Code.

Summarising this: if the freelance software developer is part of a bonafide business providing services to the 'public' and not just to this employer then they can be correctly classified as a contractor.

  • Item #1B is the gotcha that was presumably put in to prevent Uber drivers and other service personnel incorporating to get around AB5, but it impacts also a huge number of single entity consulting LLCs in CA. Feb 18, 2020 at 16:53
  • Does (e)(A) disqualify most software work, if e.g. a requirements doc, coding standards, etc. are dictated by the contracting business entity? The language is very vague.
    – namuol
    Oct 23, 2020 at 20:24
  • @namuol making a product or service to a specification provided by the customer does not create an employee of a bona fide business and vice-versa. A builder works to plans, a hairdresser works to a defined cut and a software developer works to client requirements; these would not, on their own, amount to “control and direction”.
    – Dale M
    Oct 23, 2020 at 21:09
  • Thanks Dale, that's what I figured. Perhaps a better question is, what are some examples of "control and direction"?
    – namuol
    Oct 24, 2020 at 22:17
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    @namuol Control and direction would be any outside oversight more commonly associated with management in an external company. For example, monitoring / setting hours of work, requiring specific tools be used even though others may be just as applicable for the contracted work, etc. Most broadly it's a matter of responsibility -- you're a contractor if you can (and must) make the decisions needed to take the project from specs to completion. If you're sitting back and waiting for the external organization to tell you what to do...sorry, you're an employee, not just a terrible contractor. Mar 10, 2021 at 8:15

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