For faster navigation, this Iframe is preloading the Wikiwand page for Contingent work.

Contingent work

Contingent work, casual work, or contract work, is an employment relationship with limited job security, payment on a piece work basis, typically part-time (typically with variable hours) that is considered non-permanent. Although there is less job security, freelancers often report incomes higher than their former traditional jobs.[1]

Contingent workers are also often called consultants, freelancers, independent contractors, independent professionals, temporary contract workers or temps.[2][3]

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the nontraditional workforce includes "multiple job holders, contingent and part-time workers, and people in alternative work arrangements".[4] These workers currently represent a substantial portion of the US workforce, and "nearly four out of five employers, in establishments of all sizes and industries, use some form of nontraditional staffing". "People in alternative work arrangements" includes independent contractors, employees of contract companies, workers who are on call, and temporary workers.[4]


Industrial Revolution

The concept of what is now considered to be a job, where one attends work at fixed hours was rare until the Industrial Revolution. Before then, the predominant regular work was in agriculture. Textile workers would often work from home, buying raw cotton from a merchant, spinning it and weaving it into cloth at home, before selling it on.

In the 1770s, cotton mills started to appear in Lancashire, England, using Richard Arkwright's spinning jenny and powered by water wheels. Workers would often work in twelve-hour shifts, six days a week. However, they would still often be paid on a piece work basis, and fines would be deducted from their pay for damage to machinery. Employers could hire and fire pretty much as they pleased, and if employees had any grievance about this, there was very little that they could do about it.

Trade union movement

Individual workers were powerless to prevent exploitation by their employers. [citation needed]. However, the realization that all workers generally want the same things[citation needed], and the benefits of collective bargaining, led to the formation of the first trade unions. As trade unions became larger, their sphere of influence increased, and started to involve political lobbying, resulting in much of the employment law that is now taken for granted.[citation needed]

20th century decline in manufacture

Manufacturing has declined during the 20th century in the Western world. Many manufacturing organisations that employ large numbers of people have relocated their operations to developing nations. As a result, whenever they do hire staff in Europe or North America, they often need to be able to fire them quickly and keep costs as low as possible, to remain competitive. As a result, some employers may look for loopholes in employment law, or ways of engaging staff that allows them to circumvent union-negotiated employment law, creating what is now known as contingent work.[citation needed]

Contributing factors and trends

Benefits to organizations

By engaging contract workers, organizations are able to be agile and save costs. The contingent workforce acts as a variable workforce for companies to select from to perform specific projects or complete specialized projects.[5]

Also as organizations make efforts to be more agile and to quickly respond to change in order to be more competitive, they turn to the contingent workforce to have on-demand access to professionals and experts.[6] Organizations also see the opportunity to reduce benefits and retirement costs by engaging the contingent workforce.[5] However, there is risk involved in avoiding these costs if an employee is improperly classified as a contingent worker. Using the contingent workforce is also cost-effective in that using contingent labor allows for adjustments to employment levels and employment costs depending on what kind of expertise and labor is need and at what time it is needed.


Trends in the contingent workforce are also impacted by the economy. A study conducted by the MPS Group shows the relationship between the contingent labor cycle and the state of the economy.[7] In an expanding economy, the demand for contingent labor is strong. This is most likely because organizations are trying to grow with the economy, and using contingent workers allows them to work with experts when needed, without the long-term costs of hiring them.


Among several other contributing factors, globalization has had a large impact on the growth in using contingent labor. Globalization contributes to rapid growth in industries, increased outsourcing, and a need for flexibility and agility to remain competitive.[8]

Knowledge-driven economy

A knowledge-driven economy also contributes to the growth in the use of the contingent workforce because organizations rely more on their specific and expert knowledge and expertise.[9] As demand increases for highly skilled and knowledgeable people, the expertise of contract workers becomes more attractive.

Occupational injuries and fatalities

Contingent workers are at a high risk of being injured or killed on the job. In 2015, 829 fatal injuries (17% of all occupational fatalities) occurred among contract workers, which only represent a subset of contingent workers.[10] Studies have also shown a higher burden of non-fatal occupational injuries and illnesses among contingent workers compared to those in standard employment arrangements.[11][12]

There are many possible contributing factors to the high rates of injuries and illnesses among contingent workers. They are often inexperienced and assigned to hazardous jobs and tasks,[13][12][14][15] may be reluctant to object to unsafe working conditions or to advocate for safety measures for fear of job loss or other repercussions,[14] and they may lack basic knowledge and skills to protect themselves from workplace hazards due to insufficient safety training.[16]

According to a joint guidance document released by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), both staffing agencies and host employers (clients of staffing agencies) are responsible for providing and maintaining a safe and healthy work environment for contingent workers.[17] Collaborative and interdisciplinary (e.g., epidemiology, occupational psychology, organizational science, economics, law, management, sociology, labor health and safety) research and intervention efforts are needed to protect and promote the occupational safety and health of contingent workers.[18]

In 2022, NIOSH and partners released a set of occupational safety and health best practices for host employers of temporary workers.[19] Checklists to foster adoption of the best practices and a slide deck staffing companies can use to educate their host employer clients about the best practices are also included.


Contingent[20] work jobs are widely referred to as McJobs.[21] This term was made popular by Douglas Coupland's novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, and stems from the notion that jobs in McDonald's and other fast food and retail businesses are frequently insecure.

Advantages and disadvantages for employers using contingent workers

Advantages[2] Disadvantages
Flexibility in type and amount of labor resources Lack of loyalty to employer or company
Save costs in benefits and tax Disturbs organization's core morale and culture
Immediate access to expertise not present internally Training costs
Savings in long-term compensation costs Worker carries the full risk, limited benefits

See also


  1. ^ "How Much Do Freelancers Really Make? (Hint: It's More Than You Think)". Freelancing Hacks. 2015-11-28. Retrieved 2019-11-15.
  2. ^ a b "Workforce Planning and Employment". InformIT. Pearson. 19 December 2005. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
  3. ^ "Contingent and Alternative Employment Arrangements, February 2005". US Bureau of Labor Statistics. July 2005. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
  4. ^ a b "Futurework" (PDF). Occupational Outlook Quarterly. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. September 1999. p. 36. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 June 2006.
  5. ^ a b "Banc of America Securities Conference" (PDF). MPS Group. July 2004. p. 21. Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 October 2007.
  6. ^ Goldsmith, Marshall (23 May 2007). "The Contingent Workforce". Business Week. Archived from the original on 19 May 2009.
  7. ^ "Banc of America Securities Conference" (PDF). MPS Group. July 2004. p. 10. Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 October 2007.
  8. ^ Rice, Elizabeth (2004). "Ten important issues and trends shaping human resources in 2004". Innovative Employee Solutions. Archived from the original on 22 March 2006.
  9. ^ "Contingent Workforce Management". The Human Capital Institute. 2006. Archived from the original on 16 July 2007.
  10. ^ [bare URL PDF]
  11. ^ Virtanen, Marianna; Kivimäki, Mika; Joensuu, Matti; Virtanen, Pekka; Elovainio, Marko; Vahtera, Jussi (2005-06-01). "Temporary employment and health: a review". International Journal of Epidemiology. 34 (3): 610–622. doi:10.1093/ije/dyi024. ISSN 0300-5771. PMID 15737968.
  12. ^ a b Benavides, F. G.; Benach, J.; Muntaner, C.; Delclos, G. L.; Catot, N.; Amable, M. (2006-06-01). "Associations between temporary employment and occupational injury: what are the mechanisms?". Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 63 (6): 416–421. doi:10.1136/oem.2005.022301. ISSN 1351-0711. PMC 2078100. PMID 16497853.
  13. ^ Foley, Michael; Ruser, John; Shor, Glenn; Shuford, Harry; Sygnatur, Eric (2014-07-01). "Contingent workers: Workers' compensation data analysis strategies and limitations". American Journal of Industrial Medicine. 57 (7): 764–775. doi:10.1002/ajim.22302. ISSN 1097-0274. PMID 24464742.
  14. ^ a b Boden L, Spieler EA, Wagner G. 2016. The changing structure of work: Implications for workplace safety and health in the US. United States Department of Labor/Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
  15. ^ Breslin, F. C.; Smith, P. (2006-01-01). "Trial by fire: a multivariate examination of the relation between job tenure and work injuries". Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 63 (1): 27–32. doi:10.1136/oem.2005.021006. ISSN 1351-0711. PMC 2078031. PMID 16361402.
  16. ^ Cummings, Kristin J.; Kreiss, Kathleen (2008-01-30). "Contingent Workers and Contingent Health: Risks of a Modern Economy". JAMA. 299 (4): 448–450. doi:10.1001/jama.299.4.448. ISSN 0098-7484. PMID 18230783.
  17. ^ "CDC - NIOSH Publications and Products - Recommended Practices, Protecting Temporary Workers (2014-139)". 2014. doi:10.26616/NIOSHPUB2014139. hdl:1813/77856. Retrieved 2017-03-08.
  18. ^ Howard, John (2017-01-01). "Nonstandard work arrangements and worker health and safety". American Journal of Industrial Medicine. 60 (1): 1–10. doi:10.1002/ajim.22669. ISSN 1097-0274. PMID 27779787. S2CID 27748531.
  19. ^ "Protecting Temporary Workers". 2023-01-03. Retrieved 2023-01-06.
  20. ^ Barker, Kathleen; Christensen, Kathleen (October 19, 1998). Contingent Work: American Employment Relations in Transition. Cornell University Press. p. 1. ISBN 0801484057 – via Internet Archive. Kathleen Christensen.
  21. ^ McKendrick, Joe. "Are we building a 'McJobs' economy?". ZDNet. Retrieved 2019-09-10.

Further reading

  • Contingent Work: American Employment Relations in Transition, edited by Kathleen Barker and Kathleen Christensen, ISBN 0801484057
{{bottomLinkPreText}} {{bottomLinkText}}
Contingent work
Listen to this article

This browser is not supported by Wikiwand :(
Wikiwand requires a browser with modern capabilities in order to provide you with the best reading experience.
Please download and use one of the following browsers:

This article was just edited, click to reload
This article has been deleted on Wikipedia (Why?)

Back to homepage

Please click Add in the dialog above
Please click Allow in the top-left corner,
then click Install Now in the dialog
Please click Open in the download dialog,
then click Install
Please click the "Downloads" icon in the Safari toolbar, open the first download in the list,
then click Install

Install Wikiwand

Install on Chrome Install on Firefox
Don't forget to rate us

Tell your friends about Wikiwand!

Gmail Facebook Twitter Link

Enjoying Wikiwand?

Tell your friends and spread the love:
Share on Gmail Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Buffer

Our magic isn't perfect

You can help our automatic cover photo selection by reporting an unsuitable photo.

This photo is visually disturbing This photo is not a good choice

Thank you for helping!

Your input will affect cover photo selection, along with input from other users.


Get ready for Wikiwand 2.0 🎉! the new version arrives on September 1st! Don't want to wait?