About Master-Servant Law

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Employee/Servant Legal Contracts

Master and servant are terms used to describe a legal relationship between an employer (the master) and employee (the servant). In most cases, a master-servant contract is an agreement for a service in which the employer has direct control over the actions of the servant.

The master-servant relationship only arises when the tasks are performed by the servant under the direction and control of the master and are subject to the master’s knowledge and consent. In contrast, an independent contractor is an individual entering into an agreement to perform a service using his or her own methods. Thus, he or she is not subject to the control of the individual by whom they were hired.

About the Master and Servant Act

The Master and Servant Act was created in the 18th and 19th centuries to regulate the relationship between an employee and an employer. Originally, as the name might suggest, these legal documents were biased toward employers. Today, employee and employer contracts are generally fairer and more specific.

In addition, these arrangements are not referred to as master/servant agreements, although technically and legally the relationship is defined as master-servant. 21st century employers typically do not use this terminology. Today, you may hear this relationship expressed as an employer/employee relationship.

Contract of Service vs. Contract For Service

An easy way to remember the difference between a master-servant agreement and an independent contractor agreement is by thinking of these relationships as “contract of service” and “contract for service”.

“Contract of service” represents the master-servant relationship. “Contract for service” defines the contractual obligation between two businesses or a business and a self-employed individual (an entity or independent contractor).

For example, most employees working 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. jobs are operating under a master-servant agreement. They have agreed to perform a certain kind of work for a specific time period on specific day according to the needs of their employer. They have agreed to perform this work in exchange for money, benefits, and/or other compensation.

In contrast, if the employer hires a freelancer or another business to provide a service (for example, billing, storage, and technology assistance) the relationship is a “contract for service.”  Although these two arrangements seem similar, it’s an important distinction to make.

Learn more about written contracts and the important components of an employment contract. If you have specific questions, consult with an attorney.

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