Different kinds of employment

What’s the difference between an employee and independent contractor?

An employee is anyone who has agreed to be employed, under a “contract of service”, to work for some form of payment. This can include wages, salary, commission and piece rates (see also All Things Pay section).  Volunteers (i.e. people who have no expectation of reward for work performed), share-milkers (a type of farmer), self-employed or independent contractors, or real estate agents (if their contract says they are an independent contractor) are not employees.

It is important to be clear about whether you are an employee or an independent contractor, as only employees receive minimum rights and entitlements, such as paid annual holidays, sick leave, etc, under employment legislation.  However, independent contractors and volunteers still receive protections under Health & Safety legislation.

For more information about determining what is employee or an independent contractor, please see our Who is an employee page.

What’s the difference between part-time and full-time work?

This usually means how many hours you have to work.  Employment legislation does not define what a full time or part time worker is.  However, full-time work is usually around 35-40 hours a week, and part-time work might be any number of hours a week like 10 or 25. You have exactly the same employment rights if you are a part-time or full-time employee.

What does casual work mean?

There is no definition in employment legislation defining what a casual is.  Normally it means that you work as and when required, i.e. when the employer calls you into work.  This can sometimes happen because it is hard for the employer to predict when that work needs to be done, or when the work needs to be done quickly.  If you are employed to do casual work, this must be made clear in your employment agreement.

What does being on a fixed term mean?

There are special rules for being employed on a fixed term agreement. You can only be employed on a fixed term if there is a genuine reason (like filling in for a permanent employee, seasonal work like fruit picking, or until a project is complete). Your employer must also tell you how and when the employment will end, before you start the job. This must be recorded in your employment agreement.

What does doing a seasonal job mean?

A seasonal job is usually a type of fixed term agreement where the employer needs some extra workers for a certain job that comes up every ‘season’, for example to pick apples when they ripen.  After the work is completed (for example, when all the apples are picked) the employer does not need the workers and the fixed term ends.

What is work experience?

“Work experience” normally means that someone is performing duties in a workplace as a “trial”, but there is no expectation of payment or of employment.  Because this is not deemed to be a contract of service, employment laws do not apply.

It would be wise to discuss with a parent, guardian or anyone you trust to advise you BEFORE entering into any form of “work experience”, and if you do decide to enter into an agreement to perform work experience, ensure you get the conditions placed in writing. 

From a health & safety point of view, the person providing the work experience must treat you as if you are an employee.  That includes providing you with a safe working environment and any necessary personal protective equipment (PPE), and taking steps to ensure you are not exposed to any hazards in your place of work.  For further information, see Hazards in the Workplace.