What is my employment status?

Is it important what kind of contract you are on? The short answer is yes because it can affect the amount of income tax you pay and your legal rights in the workplace. It can also make a huge difference to how you are treated if you are sacked or your engagement is terminated. This page will give a general overview of the main kinds of employment and the difference between employees, workers and self–employed. It is not intended to be legal advice.

After reading this page you may want to find out more and BECTU members can do that by clicking here for further information. More detailed information can also be found in ‘Law at Work’ published by Labour Research Department which was used to compile much of this information.

Get it in writing

The general advice to get it in writing applies equally to everyone whether they are freelance or self–employed, workers, casuals or employees. You may not have a written contract and in law you are not entitled to one but if it comes to a disagreement about money, duties or hours a written contract can help resolve the issue quickly. However the arrangements can be much looser for many freelance engagements so you should try and confirm in an email or letter what has been agreed on the telephone, setting out dates, hours of work and rates and make it clear this is what you expect the arrangement to be. For employees it may well depend on the size of the employer, as the bigger they are the more likely there is to be something in writing from a job offer to a full blown contract. If there is no contract then you should write to your prospective employer confirming what you understand to be the arrangements for your job. In every case, freelance or employee, you should ask them to come back to you if they disagree with your letter or email.

What’s in a name?

For BECTU members in particular some of this terminology may be confusing but don’t worry this is because there is no consistency in the way different terms are used. In BECTU terms an employee is clear enough because they are employed and have tax deducted before they are paid. Employment tribunals would immediately recognise that an employee would have various statutory rights depending on how long they had been employed.

However a member who considers themselves as self employed or freelance is in a much less certain position because the term freelance has no legal definition. The law only recognises ‘workers’ or ‘self employed’ or 'employees'. A freelance member may be engaged for a period by a company and would not be an employee and would be responsible for paying his or her own tax. However, the same person could be hired as an employee to do the same kind of work for a different company on a PAYE contract for a month, for example, or, alternatively, could be doing occasional shifts as a casual worker.

Members also refer to themselves as a ‘casual’ or 'freelance' when they have a series of short fixed term contracts but the law would more than likely see them as employees or possibly workers. They would probably have tax deducted by their employer and whether they had statutory rights could depend on the duration of the contract.

Many theatre members are known as ‘casuals’ and this means that for tax purposes they are employees but have no expectation of being offered work by the theatre that employs them. Despite that they could still work many weeks of the year for the same employer. They may have some employment rights depending on how long their employment goes on.

It is not easy to be definitive about the kind of contract that applies to you however BECTU has enormous experience of all of the different kinds of employment and engagement and can provide help and advice. BECTU Members can access a test devised by our lawyers which helps clarify your status at work.