Employment contract

Employment contract

A contract of employment is a category of contract used in labour law to attribute right and responsibilities between parties to a bargain. On the one end stands an "employee" who is "employed" by an "employer". It has arisen out of the old master-servant law, used before the 20th century. Put generally, the contract of employment denotes a relationship of economic dependence and social subordination. In the words of the influential labour lawyer Sir Otto Kahn-Freund,

"the relation between an employer and an isolated employee or worker is typically a relation between a bearer of power and one who is not a bearer of power. In its inception it is an act of submission, in its operation it is a condition of subordination, however much the submission and the subordination may be concealed by the indispensable figment of the legal mind known as the 'contract of employment'. The main object of labour law has been, and... will always be a countervailing force to counteract the inequality of bargaining power which is inherent and must be inherent in the employment relationship."[1]



A contract of employment usually defined to mean the same as a "contract of service".[2] A contract of service has historically been distinguished from a "contract for services", the expression altered to imply the dividing line between a person who is "employed" and someone who is "self employed". The purpose of the dividing line is to attribute rights to some kinds of people who work for others. This could be the right to a minimum wage, holiday pay, sick leave, fair dismissal, a written statement of the contract, the right to organize in a union, and so on. The assumption is that genuinely self employed people should be able to look after their own affairs, and therefore work they do for others should not carry with it an obligation to look after these rights.

In Roman law the equivalent dichotomy was that between locatio conductio operarum and locatio conductio operis (lit. a hiring contract of services and by services).[3][4]

The terminology is complicated by the use of many other sorts of contracts involving one person doing work for another. Instead of being considered an "employee", the individual could be considered a "worker" (which could mean less employment legislation protection) or as having an "employment relationship" (which could mean protection somewhere in between) or a "professional" or a "dependent entrepreneur", and so on. Different countries will take more or less sophisticated, or complicated approaches to the question.

See also

  • Adair v. United States, 209 U.S. 161, 175 (1908) "the employer and the employee have equality of right and any legislation that disturbs that equality is an arbitrary interference with the liberty of contract which no government can legally justify in our free land.”


  1. ^ Labour and the Law, Hamlyn Lectures, 1972, 7
  2. ^ in the UK, s.230 Employment Rights Act 1996
  3. ^ see, Sir John MacDonell, Classification of Forms and Contracts of Labour (1904) Journal of the Society of Comparative Legislation, New Series, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 253-261, at 255-256
  4. ^ "locatio conductio operarum is a contract whereby one party agrees to supply the other with a certain quantum of labour. locatio conductio operis is a contract whereby one party agrees, in consideration of money payment, to supply the other not with labour, but with the result of labour." Sohm, Institutes of Roman Law, 311 (1892)


  • Mark Freedland, The Personal Employment Contract (2003) Oxford University Press, ISBN 0199249261

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