UK companies show little distinction between freelancers and permanent employees compared to European firms

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Because of the continued labour market shortages, companies are finding it increasingly difficult to find suitable employees. That is one of the reasons why 95 per cent of companies use freelancers, who can be deployed quickly and flexibly. Just over one in three (35.9 per cent) UK companies have adapted HR policies for freelancers and more than half (54.5 per cent) provide specific company training courses for freelancers.

According to an international survey by SD Worx, a leading provider of global Payroll & HR services, and the Antwerp Management School, UK companies make more effort to integrate freelancers into the corporate culture compared with businesses in Germany, France, the Netherlands and Belgium.

Four in ten UK companies (41.9 per cent) do not make a distinction between permanent employees and freelancers in their HR policy. This percentage is even higher in some European countries (see table). Over one in five UK organisations (22.2 per cent) have an HR policy only for permanent employees, and 35.9 per cent have developed a separate HR policy for freelancers.

UK BE DE FR NL Average
HR policy only for payroll personnel 22.2 per cent 33.8 per cent 20.1 per cent 27.0 per cent 24.0 per cent 24.5 per cent
No difference between payroll personnel and freelancers in terms of HR policy 41.9 per cent 37.5 per cent 42.8 per cent 38.2 per cent 50.4 per cent 42.3 per cent
Separate HR policy for freelancers 35.9 per cent 28.8 per cent 37.1 per cent 34.9 per cent 25.6 per cent 33.2 per cent


UK companies are champions in specific training courses for freelancers

The survey revealed that more than half of UK companies (54.5 per cent) provide specific training courses for freelancers. This puts the United Kingdom in first place, with numbers being significantly lower for the other countries surveyed: 49.3 per cent in France, 47.8 per cent in Germany, 34.4 per cent in the Netherlands and 38.8 per cent in Belgium.

Furthermore, the survey identified that many UK companies (70.1 per cent) assess freelancers in the same way as their permanent personnel. The average is much lower in the other countries in the survey (55.1 per cent) with Belgium having the lowest percentage (37.5 per cent). The same applies to feedback on performance. Three quarters (74.9 per cent) of UK companies make no distinction in the process between permanent employees and freelancers. In the other countries, this percentage is lower (Germany 72.3 per cent, France 70.4 per cent, the Netherlands 65.6 per cent and Belgium 53.2 per cent).

Traditionally, an HR Policy is associated with the conventional employer-employee relationship, whereas freelancers are usually not subject to the same rules as permanent employees. Generally speaking, freelancers have more freedom to organise their work and working hours than permanent employees. However, the context is changing: the boundaries between employees and self-employed are fading and more and more companies are using freelancers.

UK freelancers are an important part of the team and corporate culture

Seven in ten UK companies (70.1 per cent) try to integrate freelancers in their own corporate culture and processes. This means that the United Kingdom has the second highest score of all the countries in the survey (65.6 per cent on average), after France (70.4 per cent). Freelancers are also very much involved in activities for permanent personnel, such as company parties (71.3 per cent), and are kept informed of what is going on in the organisation (76.6 per cent), particularly when it concerns their work.

Fiona McKee, Head of HR for SD Worx UK & Ireland:

“Whilst the survey revealed a positive trend in terms of inclusiveness and encouraging a good cultural fit when engaging freelancers, there are risks attached to this approach; the desire of the employer to have a one team approach and inclusiveness, is to be commended. However, in practice this can be more difficult to implement and must be treated with some caution. The main risk of such an approach would be the freelancer’s ability to make a future claim for employment status at an employment tribunal.”

“A recent notable case was Gary Smith v Pimlico Plumbers, where Smith claimed he was an employee rather than a freelancer, as he was originally appointed. Employers may start to see more claims from individuals with regard to employment status as we move towards the gig economy, where more and more workers are engaged on short term assignments. As such we would always recommend that employers seek advice when developing HR policies which will be relevant for freelancers, to protect against future claims,” McKee continued.

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