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Risks and Rights When Working Without a Contract

Updated: Apr 3

Author: Greta Kocsis

Publication date: 14.02.2024

In today's globalized world, where the gig economy is thriving and remote work is increasingly common, many individuals find themselves engaged in employment without a formal contract. While this arrangement may seem convenient or expedient, it poses significant risks for both the employer and the employee. In this article, we will explore the dangers of working without a contract, the rights that individuals forfeit in such situations, and the potential legal ramifications in international law.

The Perils of Working Without a Contract

Working without a contract leaves both parties vulnerable to exploitation and misunderstandings. For the employer, the absence of a contract means they may not have clear recourse in case of disputes over work expectations, payment terms, or intellectual property rights. Without a written agreement outlining these crucial details, employers may find themselves facing costly legal battles or reputational damage.

Likewise, employees who work without a contract are at risk of being taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers. Without written terms governing their employment, workers may not receive fair compensation, adequate benefits, or protection against wrongful termination. They may also lack recourse in case of workplace accidents or disputes over hours worked.

The Illusion of Flexibility

Some argue that working without a contract offers flexibility and freedom that traditional employment arrangements do not. In industries like freelance writing, graphic design, or consulting, individuals may prefer to work on a project basis without the constraints of a formal contract. This flexibility allows them to pursue multiple projects simultaneously, set their own schedules, and negotiate terms on a case-by-case basis.

However, this perceived freedom comes with its own set of risks. Without a contract, freelancers and independent contractors may find it challenging to enforce payment terms, protect their intellectual property, or establish clear boundaries with clients. They may also face difficulties proving the terms of their employment in case of disputes, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation or nonpayment.

Useful Information in International Law

In the realm of international law, working without a contract can have significant implications for both employers and employees. While labor laws vary from country to country, there are several universal principles and conventions that govern employment relationships and protect the rights of workers.

One such principle is the right to fair and just working conditions, as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Labour Organization's (ILO) Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. These documents affirm the rights of all individuals to work in conditions that are safe, fair, and free from discrimination or exploitation.

Additionally, many countries have laws or regulations governing the minimum terms and conditions of employment, such as minimum wage requirements, maximum working hours, and entitlement to paid leave. Without a contract, employers may find themselves in violation of these laws, exposing themselves to legal liability and potential penalties.

For employees, working without a contract can also affect their ability to exercise their rights under international law. For example, the right to collective bargaining, as enshrined in the ILO's Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, may be difficult to exercise without a formal agreement with an employer.

Furthermore, without a written contract, employees may struggle to prove their entitlement to certain benefits or protections, such as health insurance, pension contributions, or severance pay. In cases of unfair dismissal or discrimination, the absence of a contract may hinder employees' ability to seek redress through legal channels.


In conclusion, while working without a contract may offer some degree of flexibility, it exposes both employers and employees to significant risks and uncertainties. In the absence of written terms governing their employment, individuals may find themselves vulnerable to exploitation, legal disputes, and violations of their rights under international law. Therefore, it is essential for both parties to formalize their employment arrangements through written contracts that clearly outline their rights, responsibilities, and expectations. By doing so, employers and employees can mitigate risks, ensure compliance with applicable laws, and uphold the principles of fairness and justice in the workplace.


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