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Do Casual Employees or Independent Contractors get Vacation Time or Sick Leave?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Casual employees are also called temporary employees or independent contractors. The term is often used primarily by universities in the US, and it is used more commonly in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and Canada. In Australia, a worker in this category is defined by the fact that he or she does not receive vacation or sick time, and generally does not get to participate in pension plans.

In the US, in most cases, casual employees and independent contractors do not receive sick time or vacation. They also do not receive health benefits or have access to pension plans. Some universities have made an effort to convert some such employees to regular positions, however, if they work a certain amount of hours, normally at least 1,000 hours in a calendar year. For example, Princeton University allows casual employees to have access to their pension plan if they work the required hours in a year’s time.

Casual employees and independent contractors do have some distinct advantages. They often have very flexible schedules that allow them to work from home, or to work only a few hours a week. In some instances, however, large companies may seek to make employees work "casually" in order to avoid paying benefits or offering paid sick and vacation time.

In Australia, new laws have allowed for casual employees to challenge their casual status. The government found that only about 2% of these employees actually petitioned to have their status changed, however. In many cases, they are considered rewarded by making a higher hourly wage.

Employees in this category often must experience the double-edged sword of freedom and extra money versus security. An independent contractor usually simply doesn’t get paid if he or she is sick and doesn’t complete work. These people may still work many hours, but time off often means no pay.

Many permanent, part-time workers are offered both sick time and vacation pay based on hours worked. Casual employees, by not having permanent status, remain unprotected should they become ill. Many independent contractors work out their vacation time by working extra hours prior to or after being away.

Some companies offer insurance to employees who do not quality for company-based benefits. For a monthly fee, the employee can receive compensation for injuries or illnesses that prevent him or her from working. For some people, however, it is difficult or too expensive to get insurance unless they own their own company or belong to an organization of employees of a specific type.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a MyLawQuestions contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By LisaLou — On Oct 31, 2012

There have been times during my working years when I have been able to work as an independent contractor and I have always enjoyed the flexibility this provides. Sure, you also give up some nice benefits, but having more freedom and flexibility is nice too.

When I was a single parent, I needed to have a job that gave me good benefits though. I needed to have health insurance for myself and my kids and needed to know I had income coming in even if I got sick.

When I was able to work as a temporary employee I didn't really expect that I would receive any benefits. Working as a full-time employee is a different story though. There are some situations when a temporary job is all you can find, and that is much better than no job at all, but for the long term, most people need a job that provides benefits.

By golf07 — On Oct 30, 2012

My brother owns a small pizza restaurant and most all of his employees are part-time workers. This makes it a lot easier for him because he does not have to provide insurance or vacation pay. This is about the only way he is able to make it starting out with a small business like this.

Many of his employees are only looking for a part-time job anyway and he has quite a bit of turnover. As his business grows he may be in a better position to offer vacation time and sick pay and hire some full time employees. As long as the employees know this when they are hired, I see this as an effective way for him to get his business going and still be able to make a profit.

By julies — On Oct 29, 2012

My husband has been in charge of a crew for a construction company for 25 years. He is considered a full-time employee yet does not have any kind of paid vacation or sick time. They work under the 'no work, no pay' philosophy.

This means we have to always have money set aside for things that might come up or any vacation time we take. It also makes it hard during the winter when work is much slower.

The company does provide benefits as far as medical insurance, but that is about it. This is something we have just learned to live with through the years. It is hard when he talks with others who get 4-5 weeks of vacation a year or get paid when they are sick.

By SarahSon — On Oct 29, 2012

I know several couples where one spouse is a full-time permanent employee who gets benefits and has the insurance coverage for their family. The other spouse works as a temporary employee or independent contractor. This spouse usually has more flexibility with their time and can take care of the kids when they are sick, need to go to the doctor, etc. This seems to work well for the families who can afford to do this.

By eidetic — On Sep 15, 2012

@JessicaLynn - You bring up a good point. While independent contractors don't get the same benefits that employees do, they can take a lot more deductions on their taxes. My boyfriend works as a mobile DJ, and he's able to take a lot of deductions on his taxes.

He can deduct things like his equipment, the cost of travel, and the cost of purchasing new music. If he was working as an employee, I don't think he could take these deductions (although of course only an account can really tell you for sure.) And he gets paid much more than employees wages!

By JessicaLynn — On Sep 15, 2012

As the article, and other commenters have said, you don't get benefits like sick time, vacation time, or insurance as a contracted employee. You have to budget and plan for these things on your own. However, there is one good thing: in the United States, you can usually deduct the cost of health insurance on your taxes if you're an independent contractor!

By Azuza — On Sep 14, 2012

@LoriCharlie - I think it depends on what state or country you're in, and what your employment contract says (if you have one.) I think with some kinds of contracts for independent contractors, the contract is for a certain amount of time, so it can't be terminated before that.

By LoriCharlie — On Sep 13, 2012

@anon42146 - That sounds like a really tough situation. After working for a company for 17 years, I imagine you're quite attached to your coworkers! Hopefully you can find a way to stay in touch with them, even after you stop working there.

@anon42146's situation really highlights one of the pitfalls of working as an independent contractor. In most places, a company can let an independent contractor go at any time. So while you do get independent contractor pay is often better than employees pay, you do still take on some risks.

By matthewc23 — On Sep 13, 2012

@titans62 - To add to that, a lot of people work as independent contractors for additional income while having a "day job."

I've done that for a couple of years. I work my normal 40 hours at a job where I get health insurance and the normal benefits. During a lot of my weekends, I spend time as an independent contractor.

It is a great way to bring in some extra money if you need it. Although it can be hard to work when my regular job and life get in the way, I still enjoy it.

By titans62 — On Sep 12, 2012

@giddion - I agree. I think a lot of independent contractors who make their whole living from it realize that there are risks associated with it. There are rewards, as well, though. People just have to decide whether they value job security and benefits or freedom.

I would also note that a lot (and probably the majority) of independent contractors are not strictly held to one company. Any contracts I have seen allow the person the freedom to work for whoever they want. I think limiting that would classify them as a real employee.

Since that is a case, having casual employment would also add a little more excitement, since you could be simultaneously working on a few different jobs for different people.

By TreeMan — On Sep 12, 2012

@anon821 - As someone else said, casual employee rights are laid out by the federal government (in the US, at least). If you're curious about the exact standards, the IRS has several pages devoted to explaining what makes a true employee and an independent contractor.

In general, an independent contractor can't be forced to have a schedule. There are usually stipulations about when a job has to be done, though. Having the flexibility to work whenever and get a job done in any reasonable, legal, and satisfactory manner is also part of being a contractor.

As with everything in life, having a contract is good, because there is much less ambiguity about everything. As far as taking legal action, if you're speaking about whether you're entitled to employees' rights, you would probably have to speak to a lawyer. In cases where you can't come to an agreement, the IRS will investigate the situation and determine your status.

By Emilski — On Sep 11, 2012

@ZipLine - I would have to say I agree for the most part. If independent contractors start getting the same benefits as regular employees, they aren't really independent contractors anymore are they? A lot of people think it's the companies that come up with these rules, but it's the government who has set the standards. They have strict rules about what constitutes an employee and a contractor.

I think one of the things you have to decide when you're choosing a career is whether you can live with the uncertainty of being an independent contractor.

By ZipLine — On Sep 10, 2012

I'm a regular employee and I personally don't think that casual employees should get these benefits.

There is a very good reason why they don't get them and it's because they're temporary or seasonal employees. Since these type of employees tend to change jobs often, they can't continue to get benefits from a single employer.

If an employee is working for a company for years, then they need to be put on as a full-time employee. There might be some abuse of this from the employer's end but this doesn't mean that all casual employees should start getting benefits.

By literally45 — On Sep 10, 2012

I'm an independent contractor as well. I love my job, especially the flexibility of it. It's definitely less stressful than a nine-to-five job.

But I agree with all of the minuses the article and others mentioned. I hope one day we can get to a point where everyone will be able to work from home on their own time and still get benefits like health care, retirement benefits, annual leave entitlements, etc.

I know most workplaces need their employees there but there are also many that don't. Going to an office every day doesn't necessarily make you more efficient. You can be as productive away from the office. But unfortunately, this is isn't considered a real job yet.

By SarahGen — On Sep 09, 2012

@ihatebullies-- I can't answer your question but I can see how an employer would prefer to keep casual or contract employees while dropping the hours with regular employees.

Just think of it this way, the casual employee costs the employer less money. They don't have to worry about giving them health insurance or vacation time off. So for a business or organization that's on a tight budget, it's easier to keep the casual employees on than it is to keep the regular ones.

By StarJo — On Sep 08, 2012

I would just like to say that there are some employers out there who will give independent contractors all the time off that they need and allow them to return to work when they can. Of course, they don't pay you for the time off, but just knowing that you have a job to come back to is wonderful and rare.

I work for a company that totally understands that sometimes, you need to take a break. If I have other side projects going or if I need to go out of town, I simply let them know that I won't be doing any work for awhile, and they are fine with that. As long as I keep them informed, they are happy to let me start where I left off when I return.

By JackWhack — On Sep 08, 2012

@Oceana – Yes, casual employees are at the disadvantage of having to keep up with how much they will owe in taxes. It's just one of the things that makes the freedom that comes with the job a bit less enjoyable.

I am a casual employee, and I make good money when I get to work. My employer lets me have a certain number of hours per week, based on the needs of the company. However, I haven't taken a vacation in years, because I just can't afford to take the loss of income that going a week without working would bring.

By giddion — On Sep 07, 2012

The good thing about being an independent contractor in some fields is that you can work as many hours as you want to and get paid for them. I know that salaried employees often don't get overtime pay for all the extra effort they put forth.

However, when something comes up like an illness or the need to visit someone in another state, you just have to lose money in order to deal with it. I used to drive myself crazy trying to work extra hours to make up for the ones I lost when I was sick or had to visit family, but I eventually learned that life is more enjoyable when you just accept and relish the fact that you can take time off whenever you want to.

By Oceana — On Sep 06, 2012

I used to think that part-time and casual workers were the same thing. Then, I found out that my employer withheld taxes for the part-time workers but not for the casual ones.

Also, the part-time people could accrue vacation days. The casual workers were not allowed to schedule time off without losing their positions. This just seems a bit unfair.

By anon141739 — On Jan 11, 2011

I am a contractor working for a temporary service. I have been placed with a big company and have worked for this company almost two years as a temporary contractor. I have no benefits nor sick time, or vacation. I make $13.00 an hour and cannot afford to get any benefits at all on this income. I am also a single parent.

No matter how many hours I work with this company I get no benefits. There should be a law on this! Can someone answer or solve this crisis?

By anon42146 — On Aug 19, 2009

What do you do if an independent contractor, who worked with your company for years (17) and has been loyal to the company, loses it's contract with the company? How do you say farewell?

By anon41113 — On Aug 12, 2009

I was a independent contractor and had to have an emergency surgery due to pancreatitis. I was given four days to have the surgery and return to work. I was terminated when I did not return to work on the fourth day even when my surgeon e-mailed my boss for additional time. Is this against the US labor laws or do I have any grounds to get my job back.

By ihatebullies — On Jan 09, 2009

I work with a work place bully who now has the privilege of bumping all the loyal employee's who have worked hard all year. Are casual employee's allowed to keep their hours when, regular 40 hour employee's are being dropped to 32 hrs? It doesn't seem fair. This person has had several medical leaves and is suing the company as well, but we suffer the consequence's. Any one know the law on this? Thanks

By anon1148 — On May 17, 2007

Are there any rules against being an Independent contractor while on a TN visa and being employed by another company?

By anon821 — On May 05, 2007

does anyone know what the laws are with working as a casual employee in a showroom(fashion). What rules can the employers enforce as far as work schedule, jobs, and anything else that defeat the purpose of a 1099 employee? An what legal actions can i take. Should I have a written contract?

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a MyLawQuestions contributor, Tricia...
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