The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Employment is a contract between two parties, one being the employer and the other being the employee. In a commercial setting, the employer conceives of a productive activity, generally with the intention of creating profits, and the employee contributes labour to the enterprise, usually in return for payment of wages.

Employment also exists in the public, nonprofit and household sectors.

In the United States, the "standard" employment contract is considered to be at-will meaning that the employer and employee are both free to terminate the employment at any time and for any cause, or for no cause at all.

To the extent that employment or the economic equivalent is not universal, unemployment exists.

Employment is almost universal in capitalist societies. Opponents of capitalism such as Marxists oppose the capitalist employment system, considering it to be unfair that the people who contribute the majority of work to an organization do not receive a proportionate share of the profit. However, the surrealist and the situationist movements were among the few groups to actually oppose work, and during the partially surrealist-influenced events of May 1968 the walls of the Sorbonne were covered with anti-work graffiti.

Labourers often talk of "getting a job", or "having a job". This conceptual metaphor of a "job" as a possession has led to its use in slogans such as "money for jobs, not bombs". Similar conceptions are that of "land" as a possession (real estate) or intellectual rights as a possession (intellectual property).



An employer is a person or institution that hires employees or workers. Employers offer wages to the workers in exhange for the worker's labor-power.

Employers include everything from individuals hiring a babysitter to governments and businesses which hired many thousands of employees. In most western societies governments are the largest single employers, but most of the work force is employed in small and medium businesses in the private sector.

Note that although employees may contribute to the evolution of an enterprise, the employer maintains autonomous control over the productive infrastructure of land and capital, and is the entity named in contracts. The employer typically also maintains ownership of intellectual property created by an employee within the scope of employment and as a function thereof. These are known as "works for hire".

Within large organizations the management of employees is often handled by Human Resources departments.


An employee is any person hired by an employer – typically, a worker hired to perform a specific "job". Typical examples include accountants, solicitors, lawyers, photographers, among many other worker classifications.

There are differing classes of employee. Some are permanent and provide a guaranteed salary, other employers hire workers on short term contracts or rely on consultants.

The employee contributes labour and expertise to an enterprise. Employees perform the discrete activity of economic production. Of the three factors of production, employees usually provide the labor.

Some companies feel that a happier work force is a better one and thus offer extra benefits to improve morale and performance. However, other employers try to increase profits by providing low wages and few benefits. To resist this, employees can organize into labor unions (American English), or trade unions (British English), who represent most of the available work force and must therefore be listened to by the management. This is the source of considerable bad feeling between the two sides, and sometimes even violence.


An individual who entirely owns the business for which he labours is known as self-employed, although if a self-employed individual has only one client for whom he performs work, he may be considered an employee of that client for tax purposes.

Workers who are not paid wages, such as volunteers, are generally not considered as being employed.

Someone who works under a threat of physical force is known as a slave and slaveowners are also not considered employers. Some historians suggest that slavery is older than employment, but both arrangements have existed for all recorded history.


Death on the Job, Filmmakers: William Guttentag and Vince DiPersio,1991

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Last updated: 06-01-2005 23:24:50
Last updated: 09-03-2005 18:37:12