Self-Employed Workers


Many people dream of being their own boss. But before taking the plunge, it is important to understand what’s involved in being self-employed, including the legal aspects.

Working for Yourself 

Self-employed workers work for themselves and not for someone else. They work for clients who pay them an agreed amount.

Self-employed workers therefore have a lot of freedom in the choice of their clients and the way they do their work. They usually have their own clients and are not employees of these clients. Self-employed workers are sometimes called “independent contractors”.

In other words, self-employed workers are not “employees”, because they do not work under the direction and control of an employer.

The courts have developed tests to decide whether a person is self-employed and not an employee:

  • The worker controls her work. 
  • The worker provides her own work tools. 
  • The worker can make a profit or have losses. 

The more of these factors present, the more likely the person will be considered self-employed. If you are not sure whether you are self-employed, you can ask the advice of a lawyer or a notary.

Careful! You can be considered self-employed for tax purposes, but not self-employed when it comes to laws about work.

Am I a self-employed worker if I always work for the same clients? 

The number of clients can be an important factor in deciding whether you are self-employed, but it is not a deciding factor on its own.

What is important is whether the worker has control over the way the work is done. To decide this, the courts look at the tests listed in the previous question.

My work contract says that I am not an employee. Does this make me a self-employed worker? 

No. Your status is based on the relationship between you and the person giving you the work, not the words used in the contract.  

The nature of this relationship is evaluated based on the tests listed above.

I work part-time for several different employers. Am I a self-employed worker? 

Not necessarily. If you get a salary in return for work done under the supervision and control of various employers, you are simply the employee of those employers.  

Again, your real status is decided by looking at all the tests listed above. You might even be an employee for one job and self-employed for other work you do. It all depends on your particular situation.

Can my self-employed status change from one contract to another? 

Yes. If, in one contract, the person for whom you are working has some control over how you do your work, it might be an employee-employer relationship. It all depends on your relationship with the person providing the work. 

For example, a firefighter who is an employee of a city might, in his free time, be self-employed as an electrician. He will therefore be considered an employee when he is a firefighter and self-employed when he is working as an electrician.  

I am self-employed. Can I take parental leave and get payments from the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan?

In some cases, you can get these payments. 

All self-employed workers earning $2,000 or more per year must pay into the Plan. If they meet certain conditions, they can benefit from parental, maternity, paternity and adoption benefits. 

To find out more, see our article on Maternity, Paternity and Parental Leaves. 

However, if you are self-employed, you are not protected by the Act respecting labour standards. This means that it is your decision whether to take parental, maternity or paternity leave, because you are your own boss. 

For example, to retain clients, a self-employed worker might hesitate to take this time off and request payments under the Quebec plan. A client, unlike an employer, is free to choose to do business with someone else. Also, if the self-employed worker has a contract with a client and decides to take this time off, the client could even decide to cancel the contract with the worker. 

I am self-employed. Am I entitled to compensation for workplace injuries?

No, not unless you have decided to pay, voluntarily as a self-employed worker, into the government plan run by the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST or labour standards, pay equity and workplace health and safety board). 

Also, you must meet some criteria to have a right to compensation as a self-employed worker. 

You can learn more by visiting the website of the CNESST.

If you have one or several employees working for you, you must register with the CNESST within certain deadlines. (Note that the part of the CNESST website for employers is in French only). 

I am self-employed. One of my clients pays me less than the minimum wage. What can I do?

As a self-employed worker, you don’t benefit from minimum wage rules. Only people who are employees are covered.  

It is up to you to negotiate the amount to be paid when you accept a new contract.