How to manage safety obligations when hiring freelance talent


Hiring freelance workers has been a lifeline for many Canadian businesses, especially during the pandemic. It’s estimated that gig workers represent 1 in 10 Canadian adults and that more than 1 in 3 Canadian companies employ freelance workers to support their operations. 

But while there are clear benefits to hiring independent contractors for your business, there are also inherent risks – especially when it comes to safety obligations. 

There have been stories in the news recently about safety incidents involving ride-sharing and home rental businesses that rely heavily on gig-workers to carry out their services.  

So how can owners protect their customers, employees and business and ensure safety obligations are being met when hiring outside talent? Caravel Lawyer, Ellen Swan, talks us through some tips. 

Understand your responsibilities as a business owner 

Health and safety laws across the country are designed to protect the most vulnerable – that is, people with little or no control over safety compliance. 

As an employer, you have the most control in your workplace, which means it’s your responsibility to do everything you can to ensure workers – both full-time and contract – are compliant with your safety protocols and health and safety standards. 

It’s not enough to put, “You must comply with all safety obligations” in your contract with a contractor. That will not insulate your company from liability. 

Business owners must get granular in terms of what those obligations are, but most importantly, they must actively work to ensure compliance with safety obligations. 

Invest in safety training and preparedness 

A business must exercise all due diligence to prevent a safety incident. That’s a very high burden and requires a real commitment to monitoring compliance and ensuring the execution of safety obligations. 

Asking your contractors to register with the WSIB (Workplace Safety and Insurance Board) is a great place to start. 

You’ll also want to implement a comprehensive training program that all contractors are required to complete before they begin work. Make sure you keep records of that training and update the program regularly so you can prove your contractors have learned the safest processes for doing the work being asked of them. 

Remember, there isn’t an inherent difference between employees and freelance workers when it comes to safety obligations. The definition of a ‘worker’ in occupational health and safety law is broader than a strict employer/employee relationship and will often include dependent and independent contractors. So ensure all your workers- regardless of the employment type – receive the same safety training. 

Re-assessing the need for hiring contractors for your business 

Before you look at hiring independent contractors for your business, it’s important to ask yourself these two key questions: 

  1. What value am I providing beyond what my contractor does? Does my business provide something broader than what the contractor is providing?
  2. Why do I want this specific person to be a contractor? 

If the answer to the first question is “Not much”, then there is a real risk that: 

  1. The law will interpret your relationship with your contractor as something more like an employment relationship, and;
  2. You will also be exposed to losing your contractor and all your business if they decide to go out on their own. 

It’s important to consider these points before working with a freelancer, as you may realize that despite the benefits of this working arrangement, a contractor relationship might not be what’s best for your business – or your customers. 

Need support managing your contractor relationships? We can help. Caravel has over 70 qualified and experienced lawyers, including those specializing in employment law. Get in touch with our team to find out more.

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