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Subordinate and self-employed work: what are the differences?

When starting a business or when the volumes of work increase it may be necessary to find new collaborators. Before starting the employment relationship, it will be necessary to identify the right contract. It is possible to use two types of contract: subordinate and self-employed work, depending on the ways in which the work is carried out. In this short guide, we will explain the main differences to help you choose the contract that is right for you.

Subordinate and self-employed work: what are the differences?

Difference between subordinate and self-employed work

The main difference between subordinate and self-employed work lies in the ways in which the work is performed:

  • In self-employment, the worker is independent of the client and autonomously chooses how to carry out the agreed activity.
  • In subordinate work, on the other hand, the employee is organized and directed by the employer and has limited autonomy.

The two types of employment contracts have different legal disciplines. Let’s look at them individually in more detail.

The subordinate work

The employment contract is used to regulate the relationship between an employer and his employee. The employer organizes, directs, and controls the worker’s activity. For example, he chooses what the employee has to do, decides the place and hours of work, authorizes absences and holidays, and pays the salary every month. In addition, the employer monitors the employee’s activity and penalizes any shortcomings.

For his part, the worker enjoys a series of legal protections. In particular, the employee cannot receive a lower wage than that provided for by collective agreements, cannot work beyond the maximum allowed hours, and cannot be fired except in the cases provided for by law. In addition to this, a substantial part of the employee’s social security contributions is paid by the employer.

Depending on the needs, the subordinate work can be regulated with different types of contracts. Based on the duration, the parties will be able to enter into a contract for an indefinite period (which does not provide for expiry date) or for a fixed term (with a predetermined term). If, on the other hand, the employee does not work continuously but at time intervals, the most suitable contract is on-call work. Finally, if the employee works remotely, outside the company premises, a smart working or teleworking contract may be stipulated (we have created a guide on teleworking and smart working).


The main difference between subordinate work and self-employment lies in the complete independence of the worker from the client. The place, time, and manner in which the work is performed are decided by the worker. Generally, the only obligation of the self-employed worker is to achieve the result agreed with the client. For example, creating a website or providing a marketing consultancy service.

Except for some limits, such as those provided by the recent Jobs act of self-employed workers, the parties can freely decide the content of the contract. For example, it is possible to foresee the payment of the compensation only when the result is achieved. Generally, the payment of the remuneration takes place with the presentation of an invoice from the worker. The worker will then have to open a VAT number (which can also be a flat-rate VAT number). Unlike employment, the self-employed person pays his own social security contributions himself.

The self-employed can be adjusted to different types of contract. To carry out a defined work, to be delivered within a predetermined time (eg an advertising campaign), the most suitable contract is that of providing work or work for freelancers. For services that last over time and do not provide for final delivery, however, the continuous service supply contract can be used. This is the case, for example, of a contract for the weekly cleaning of an office.

Keep in mind that the self-employment contract cannot be misused. If an employer uses a self-employment contract for a person who actually works as an employee (e.g. has a working time, has to report his absences, receives orders from the employer), the worker can apply to the judge. In this case, the employer will be obliged to hire the employee, will have to pay the outstanding contributions and the related penalties, and will not be able to dismiss him freely.