Types of contracts

In addition to contracts of employment, a number of other types of contracts exist.

Contract for service

This is an agreement that involves a self-employed contractor carrying out a particular job or providing a specific service.  Unlike a contract of employment, there is no employment relationship. However, this distinction is not always clear, and industrial tribunals will often have to determine the correct employment status in, for example, claims of unfair dismissal.

Fixed-term contract

This type of contract can be:

  • for a fixed period and will end when a specific date is reached;
  • for the purposes of fulfilling a specific task and will end when the task has been completed; or
  • for a specific event and will end when the event does or does not happen.

Fixed-term employees:

  • have the right not to be treated any less favourably than comparable employees on permanent contracts;
  • who have been employed on successive fixed-term contracts (i.e. they have had the contract renewed previously or have been employed on more than one contract) for four continuous years can ask their employer for a statement confirming that they are permanent and/or are no longer on a fixed-term contract.


  • must issue the above statement or one that gives objective reasons why the contract remains fixed term within 21 days of an employee’s request;
  • can keep an employee on a fixed-term contract only if they can objectively justify it at the point it was last renewed.    

A report on the transposition into Ireland and Northern Ireland of the European Fixed-term Work Directive and the Working Time Directive can be accessed in the ‘Related tools and publications’ section.

Zero-hours contract

No accepted legal definition of this type of contract exists.  If in question, the key issue will be around the individual facts of each case.  

Generally, in employment law, there are three main categories of staff in a workplace — employees; workers; and independent contractors.  If someone is classified as being on a zero-hours contract, it should not be automatically assumed that they are an employee with all the associated employment protection rights.  

In many cases, a zero-hours contract staff member will be legally classified as a worker and will therefore have some, but not all, of the rights that an employee has.  Examples include statutory holiday entitlement and the national minimum wage.

This can be a complicated area of employment law, and it is only by answering key questions, such as those listed below, that the picture becomes clearer about the status of the zero-hours contract staff member.  

  • Do you have a contract of employment?
  • What does the contract of employment state?
  • Is what happens in practice different from what is stated in the contract?
  • Is your employer obliged to provide work?
  • Are you obliged to accept work?
  • When is the obligation triggered?
  • Have practices developed into a pattern over a period of time?
  • Can you appoint a substitute or must you provide the service personally?
  • Are you obliged to follow/use the internal rules etc. of the organisation?
  • Do you use your own equipment or wear a uniform?
  • What are your tax and National Insurance arrangements?
Last updated: 25 July 2019