According to the State of California Department of Industrial Relations: "employers do not have to cover independent contractors under workers' compensation insurance." This means that if you are working as an independent contractor and you sustain an injury while doing work duties, you cannot make a claim to get work injury benefits.
The ability to make a workers' comp claim is very important to workers. Under California's workers' compensation laws, it is possible to make a claim for benefits regardless of how an injury happened. If your employer was not negligent in any way and did nothing to cause your injury, you can still get workers' comp to cover your medical care and provide disability income if you cannot work because of injuries.
As an independent contractor, you don't have this option. You could sue to recover damages, but only if you have a case under tort law. This would require you to prove your injuries occurred due to negligence or a breach of legal duty. You are not guaranteed benefits for work injury as an independent contractor.
While workers' comp doesn't cover independent contractors, you should not assume that you aren't covered just because your employer has you classified as an independent contractor. As the California Department of Industrial Relations explains, "Employers oftentimes improperly classify their employees as independent contractors."
Your employer does not just get to decide that you are an independent contractor because the company doesn't want to give you benefits or protect you in case you get hurt on-the-job. There are very specific requirements that must be met in order for you to be an independent contractor.
Even if your employer has paid you as an independent contractor, or if you signed a contract saying you were an independent contractor, this does not necessarily, in and of itself, determine whether or not you are an independent contractor. The guidelines are the determining factor in how you are classified under the law and what benefits you actually deserve. The Division of Workers' Compensation guidelines may determine you aren't actually an independent contractor, no matter what your employer says, and if this happens, you should be able to get workers' comp coverage.
Lots of factors can help to determine if you are actually an independent contractor or if you have been misclassified when you should really be an employee. One of the biggest factors in the independent degree of control that you have. If you determine where, when and how you perform your job, this points towards you being an independent contractor.
However, if your employer has a high degree of control over your work, then you may actually be an employee and your employer may be obligated to provide you with benefits including workers' comp coverage. You should talk with an attorney after a work injury, even if you are an independent contractor, to find out if you were improperly classified and to discuss your legal options.