I work at a UK university doing part-time teaching. I was looking into statutory sick pay recently, which I see can be claimed by someone on an employment contract. When I look at my contract with the university, I see that they have given me a contract for services. They explicitly state a couple of times in the contract that it is not a contract for employment.

I can see why it would be advantageous for the University not to have to pay me sick pay when I'm ill. Are there any other reasons why they may have given me a contract for services instead of a contract for employment? Are there any potential positive aspects for me about having a contract for services?

I had a look at a definition here, and it says that a contract for services is for "appointing a genuinely self-employed individual such as a consultant". Before looking at my contract more carefully in the last couple of days, I had always understood my relationship with the university to be as an employee. I can't see what about my job there makes me a "genuinely self-employed individual", apart from the fact that the university have chosen to define my role in that way. To me it feels disingenuous to have been given this contract for services instead of a contract for employment, and I suspect that the university have done this for the purpose of avoiding any benefits that come along with an employment contract such as statutory sick pay. Does anybody know if it is standard for UK universities to use contracts for services for their part-time teaching work?

Is there any way that I could reasonably raise this with the university, or with my academic department, to try to be treated as an employee rather than self-employed? Maybe it would be best for me to speak to the teaching union?

  • Joe, does "part time" mean you have a fixed working pattern (with reduced weekly hours) or are you called in as-and-when required to cover for other absent teachers? And do you have payslips or P60s showing PAYE tax and/or NIC Class 1 deductions?
    – user35069
    Nov 28, 2020 at 14:05
  • Oh, and definitely bring this up with your union rep who should have access to current and relevant Employment Tribunal case law or guidance.
    – user35069
    Nov 28, 2020 at 14:08
  • As a genuine freelancer by my own free will (who has also taught university courses; in Germany rather than UK): it may be much better for you to be an employee - but there are also advantages to being free lancer in particularly wrt. IP rights. I highly recommend that you look into this before talking to university or teaching union. Keep in mind: the teaching union has an interest in you becoming employee since as employee you are a potential member, whereas as freelancer you are not. They'll be good at explaining what benefits you can expect from being employed, but I would not rely on them Nov 28, 2020 at 14:38
  • ... being good at explaining the advantages of being a freelancer rather than an employee. They may even forget to mention that as a freelancer, you are free to take another part-time teaching job at another university in parallel. Whereas as employee, you may not have the right to get another job at a competitor's. Nov 28, 2020 at 14:39
  • @cbeleitesunhappywithSX freelancers can be members of the union
    – Dale M
    Nov 28, 2020 at 21:50

1 Answer 1


You are probably an employee

Answer these questions:

  • Can you say “no” when the University offers you work? Or vice-versa, can they say “no” when you want to work?
  • Can you subcontract the work? That is, can you hire someone to do what the University hired you to do?
  • Do you control how and when you work? For example, when you break University rules are you subject to University discipline or is this treated as a breach of contract? Do you provide your own tools and equipment?
  • Can you make a profit or loss (if you get paid by the hour the answer is “no”)?
  • Do you take out your own public liability and/or professional indemnity insurance?

If the answers to most of these questions are “no”, you’re an employee.

  • As a genuine freelancer (based in Germany though) I can certainly make service contracts where I'm paid by the hour, even with universities. And whether I offer fixed price or hourly services, I still have the economic risk (= can make profit or loss). The control how & when rule is also causing substantial uncertainty over here, in particular for anyone who offers in-house training courses or courses like university lectures where the offer will typically contain specified date + time for the course to take place... Though, all in all, over here it would almost certainly be employment, yes. Nov 28, 2020 at 14:43
  • 2
    @cbeleitesunhappywithSX the common law position is that the totality of the arrangement must be considered so it’s always difficult to say. The fact that someone works multiple jobs makes no difference- each needs to be assessed and some might be employment and others contracting.
    – Dale M
    Nov 28, 2020 at 21:46
  • Thanks for your help Dale M. These are my answers to the questions: 1) I could say no to the work, and the uni don't guarantee any work 2) I don't think I can subcontract the work 3) I don't control how and when I work, the uni does. I don't know about disciplinary procedures. The uni provides me with tools and equipment. 4) I get paid a fixed hourly rate 5) I don't take out my own insurance. I feel like I answered yes to some and no to others so I'm not really sure still. Is it clear to you based on these answers?
    – Jojo
    Dec 1, 2020 at 13:03
  • Is this answer according to UK laws? Employers trying to trick their way out of mandatory employee benefits like sick pay through some service/ self employed contract happens in a lot of countries but when this is legal and how to prove your are an employee depends heavily on jurisdiction. I have no idea about UK laws, does this answer summarize the UK situation?
    – quarague
    Dec 9, 2020 at 14:48
  • 1
    @quarague unless changed by statute it’s applicable in all common law jurisdictions.
    – Dale M
    Dec 9, 2020 at 20:03

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