Company directors are officially classed as officeholders. Even if you’re a sole director of a small company and you run the business all by yourself, you are not automatically an employee of the company. The status of ‘employee’ is only afforded to directors under certain conditions, which we will discuss below.
When is a director an employee?
Section 230 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 defines an employee as “an individual who has entered into or works under … a contract of employment”. Directors do not normally have employment contracts, but they often have service contracts, which are essentially the same thing and generally provide the individual with employment status.
Company directors without service contracts are not automatically considered to be employees (or workers) for the purposes of employment law regulations. However, it is possible for directors to be classed as employees if they meet the majority of the employment status criteria used to determine if someone who works for a business is an employee.
In the case of a limited company that just has one director who is also the sole shareholder, there is generally no advantage to the director being classed as an employee for employment law purposes, simply because they are unlikely to enforce any of their employment rights against their own company.
Are directors considered employees if they are paid a salary?
Directors who do not take a salary (e.g., those who take dividends as shareholders instead) are less likely to be considered employees compared to directors who are on the payroll. However, without a service contract, the mere fact of being paid a salary does not mean directors will be classed as employees for employment law purposes.
Some directors take a salary in addition to drawing dividends as a way to minimise their tax burden. If they take a salary up to £9,100 per year (2023/24 secondary threshold for Class 1 National Insurance) they do not have to pay Income Tax or National Insurance contributions (NIC) on that income. Nor does the company have to make employers’ NIC.
So, for the purpose of tax efficiency, many sole directors will pay themselves a salary within the secondary threshold and top up their income with dividend payments.
However, companies need to register as employers if they pay more than the lower earnings limit (currently £6,396 per year) to any member of staff, including a director. So, if a director is paid a salary above the lower earnings limit, they will be treated by HMRC as an employee for tax purposes, even if they are not considered an employee for employment law purposes.
Is a director self employed?
Company directors are not considered to be self-employed in relation to the companies in which they hold office as directors. Although they can be both directors and employees, it is not possible to be a director and also a self-employed contractor for the same company.
In other words, company directors cannot invoice their companies for any services provided in the course of their role as directors. Instead, this has to be paid as a salary. However, an individual who is a company director for one business may well be self-employed in another business, so they do have the option to wear different hats.