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S. G. Borello & Sons, Inc. v. Department of Industrial Relations

Supreme Court of California

March 23, 1989

No. S003956


 [*345]  [**400]  [***544]    We ordered review to decide whether agricultural laborers engaged to harvest cucumbers under a written "sharefarmer" agreement are "independent contractors" exempt from workers' compensation coverage. 3 Our answer has implications for the employer-employee relationship upon which other state social legislation depends. 4

The grower claims the [****3]  "sharefarmer" harvesters are independent contractors under the statutory "control-of-work" test, because they manage their own labor, share the profit or loss from the crop, and agree in writing that they are not employees. After taking evidence on the nature of the work relationship, the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (Division) of the Department of Industrial Relations rejected these contentions. The superior court found that the Division's decision was supported by the evidence. However, these rulings were reversed by the Court of Appeal.

Like the Division and the superior court, we find the grower's arguments unpersuasive.  [***545]  The grower controls the agricultural operations on its premises from planting to sale of the crops. It simply chooses to accomplish one integrated step in the production of one such crop by means of worker  [**401]  incentives rather than direct supervision. It thereby retains all necessary control over a job which can be done only one way.

Moreover, so far as the record discloses, the harvesters' work, though seasonal by nature, follows the usual line of an employee. In no practical sense are the "sharefarmers" entrepreneurs [****4]  operating independent businesses for their own accounts; they and their families are obvious members of the broad class to which workers' compensation protection is intended to apply.

 [*346]  We therefore conclude as a matter of law on the undisputed facts that the "sharefarmers" are "employees" entitled to compensation coverage. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeal.

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48 Cal. 3d 341 *; 769 P.2d 399 **; 256 Cal. Rptr. 543 ***; 1989 Cal. LEXIS 975 ****; 54 Cal. Comp. Cases 80

S. G. BORELLO & SONS, INC., Plaintiff and Appellant, v. DEPARTMENT OF INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS, Defendant and Respondent

Prior History:  [****1]  Superior Court of Santa Clara County, No. 587811, Jack Komar, Judge.

Disposition:  We therefore hold as a matter of law that Borello has failed to demonstrate the cucumber sharefarmers are independent contractors excluded from coverage under the Act. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeal, directing the superior court to grant Borello's petition for writ of mandate, is reversed.


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Workers' Compensation & SSDI, Coverage, Employment Status, Contractors, Compensability, Course of Employment, General Overview, Business & Corporate Law, Duties & Liabilities, Causes of Action & Remedies, Burdens of Proof, Defenses, Labor & Employment Law, Employment Relationships, At Will Employment, Duration of Employment, Establishment, Proof of Agency