EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Contract of employment

Although different legal formulations of the concept of worker are possible, labour law in the EU starts with the employment relationship, which is characterised as a contract of employment. The essential defining element of the contract of employment is the criterion of submission or subordination of the employee to the employer’s command or control in terms of the time, place and manner in which the work is to be done. Laws affecting workers usually focus on the contract of employment and subordination. Perhaps unsurprisingly, one category excluded from contracts of employment is that of the self-employed person .

Some EU directives not only include contracts of employment within their scope, but also other ‘employment relationships’. The initiative most clearly related to the limitations of the contract of employment is Council Directive 91/533/EEC of 14 October 1991 on an employer’s obligation to inform employees of the conditions applicable to the contract or other employment relationship. This directive aimed to cover ‘any working relationship emanating from a contract of employment or any other legal form of recruitment (e.g. teleworking, training, employment-training, etc.), which links a worker to an employer and which is subject to the legislation in force in a Member State’.

Article 1 of the directive defines its scope as follows: ‘this Directive shall apply to every paid employee having a contract or employment relationship defined by the law in force in a Member State and/or governed by the law in force in a Member State’. The directive makes a clear distinction between contractual and other employment relationships and includes both within its scope.

The significance of the directive is that, by implication, it includes within its scope any worker who does not have a contract of employment. As such, it recognises that work has taken new forms that may not fall within the classical legal definition of contracts of employment. The scope of EU regulation of the labour market thus shows some sign of extending beyond contracts of employment to cover workers outside the normal confines of employment law.

Information on employment status and conditions

Article 2 of Council Directive 91/533/EEC obliges the employer to inform employees of the conditions applicable to the contract or other employment relationship. Article 3 requires this information to be given in written form.

In addition, Council Directive 89/391/EEC of 12 June 1989 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work stipulates specific requirements for employers in respect of the provision of information to individual workers. This obligation extends to temporary and hired workers that are currently working in the enterprise or establishment, as well as workers from any outside undertakings working in the employer’s establishment.

Following the proclamation of the European Pillar of Social Rights in November 2017, a proposal for a directive on transparent and predictable working conditions was made. The objective of this proposal is to set new rights for all workers, particularly to address the inadequate protection for workers in precarious jobs. Among other things, the directive envisages that the worker should receive more complete information on the essential aspects of the work on their first working day at the very latest (rather than up to two months afterwards). The new directive on transparent and predictable working conditions would repeal the current written statement directive. Following negotiations, political agreement between the Council, the Parliament and the Commission was reached in February 2019. The Parliament and the Council have now to adopt their formal position under the co-decision procedure for the text to become EU law.

See also: atypical work; casual worker; employment relationship; proof of employment; terms and conditions of employment; undeclared work

Please note: the European industrial relations dictionary is updated annually. If errors are brought to our attention, we will try to correct them.

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