EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Economically dependent worker


The concept of ‘economically dependent worker’ falls between the two established concepts of employment and self-employment. It refers to those workers who do not correspond to the traditional definition of employee because they do not have an employment contract as dependent employees. However, although formally ‘self-employed’, they are economically dependent on a single employer for their source of income.


The status of these workers falls in between self-employment and dependent employment, and they have some characteristics of both forms. First, they are formally self-employed, in that they usually have a sort of ‘service contract’ with the employer. Second, they depend on one single employer for all or much of their income. They are often similar to employees in a number of ways. They may lack a clear organisational separation, working on the employer’s premises and/or using the employer’s equipment. There may be no clear distinction of tasks: they may perform similar tasks to existing employees, or of those formerly undertaken by employees, before the work was outsourced. Finally, their ‘services’ fall outside the traditional professions, in that they often do not require specific skills or professional knowledge or competence.

Despite these similarities to employees, such economically dependent workers do not generally benefit from the protections granted to employees both by law and collective bargaining, including provisions on health and safety, such as working time provisions. The categories of employee and self-employed workers are reasonably clearly defined, and the distinction in most, but not all EU Member States, tends to exclude the latter from employment protection law, including working time regulations.

The problem arises with new categories of work, which do not clearly fall into either category of employment or self-employment: ‘economically dependent worker’. Member States have adopted a variety of strategies to deal with this problem, including treating them as employees and therefore falling within the scope of employment protection legislation, extending protection to specified categories of such workers and listing criteria that enable identification of the workers as either employees or self-employed.

In a number of Member States, trade unions have been active in establishing organisations specifically targeted at ‘economically dependent workers’.

See also: atypical work; contract of employment; homeworking; employment relationship; worker.


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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