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I was hired as a contractor by my former employer almost immediatly after my resignation. I worked from home as much as I could, but they preferred that I worked on-site.

The company in question has some office perks. Mainly, there's a food buffet at noon every day which is basically free – employees pay a symbolic fee out of their salary. Of course, as I am not a regular employee, I do not pay for the buffet. However, guests of the house (such as clients etc.) are always invited to join, if there are meetings at noon.

What I did was, when noon came, I waited untill the food rush was over, and then grabbed a plate if there's any food left. I didn't want to gorge myself in free food, while regular employees go hungry. Some times there is simply not enough to go around.

This is a small medium-sized company (25 people), and I am on friendly terms with people – some of them I hang out with outside work.

The contract has now ended, but I have been contacted by other companies for similar gigs – in one of these, I know several employees, in the other I am largely unknown.

As an outside contractor, is it acceptable to take advantage of on-site perks?

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closed as off-topic by gnat, Jan Doggen, Thomas Owens, jcmeloni, Chad Sep 3 '14 at 13:33

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Questions seeking advice on company-specific regulations, agreements, or policies should be directed to your manager or HR department. Questions that address only a specific company or position are of limited use to future visitors. Questions seeking legal advice should be directed to legal professionals. For more information, click here." – gnat, Jan Doggen, Thomas Owens, jcmeloni, Chad
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You ask your direct contact at the company, not us ;-) – Jan Doggen Sep 3 '14 at 10:00
Sure, I could, but your contact is not always available, it can be unclear who your contact is (say if you're hired out to third party). Plus, my problem resolved itself. I mostly asked the question because I thought it would be interesting to hear what people think it "proper etiquette", and that it might help other people. – Nix Sep 5 '14 at 9:01
up vote 11 down vote accepted

Unless someone specifically indicates that you have not access to those perks, and subject to any provisions in your contracting agreement, I would take advantage of them.

On-site perks are to retain staff on-site so they work longer hours or don't have to run errands in the middle of the day.

As contractors, you are provided similar services that those employed by the organization, the main difference is your employer or records.

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I would add something like "subject to any provisions in your contracting agreement"; in a lot of countries, contractors and employees have entirely different perks (from the mundane like parking, to the expensive like health and travel). – Burhan Khalid Sep 3 '14 at 11:07
Thank you! I have edited my response accordingly. – David Segonds Sep 3 '14 at 12:12

Depending on which country you are in and how you organise your contracting career, taking advantage of such perks may be an indication that you are not actually a contractor, but de facto an employee. And that could have negative legal consequences, so a bit of care may be needed. If the tax office is after you claiming that you are working as an employee and not a contractor, then you may want to stay away from this.

Not saying that would be happening, but it's something to keep in mind. Let's say the company (almost said your company, but it isn't) has a canteen with free lunch for employees where visitors can pay for lunch, even if they don't mind giving you a free lunch that would make you much more like an employee. If it's free for employees and visitors, that's a lot safer.

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IMHO, and at least in the USA, the negatives consequences would be for the employer, not the contractor. – David Segonds Sep 3 '14 at 9:35
In the UK, many contractors have a one man company owned by the contractor which pays the contractor minimum wage, and the owner of the company (which is the same contractor) takes profits at a much lower tax rate. So employer and contractor would be the same person. – gnasher729 Sep 3 '14 at 9:39
I meant the employer who is contracting the services. In the case, the one providing the perks. However, you are making an excellent point. – David Segonds Sep 3 '14 at 9:40
To follow up @gnashers point in the UK if HMRC thinks you are breaking the Ir35 rules they can do a very thorough investigation and end you up with a large tax bill. Disguised employment via a W2 is less common in the UK as almost all contractors are independent even if we use a umbrella company to get round the law – Pepone Sep 3 '14 at 13:05
@DavidSegonds, the negatives are not just for the employer. This negative for the employer could result in termination of the contract as their decision on how to comply with tax code. That would be a negative for OP. – cdkMoose Sep 3 '14 at 19:12

Get managerial cover:

I would ask my onsite supervisor representing the contractor if I have permission to go for the free food - the client made the free food available to the employees to make sure that they didn't scatter to the four winds in their search for food, and that they wouldn't have to be able to get the employees back in-house until after the lunch hour was over. The client could be making the same calculation for the contractors.

If the onsite supervisor representing the contractor doesn't know, then I'd suggest that they talk to the supervisor representing the client and ask. If you ask, you may not get but if you don't ask, you don't get.

If you don't have an onsite supervisor representing the contractor, ask the supervisor representing the client e.g. the individual at the client site who signs off on your time spent. Again, if you ask, you may not get. But if you don't ask, you don't get.

You may be challenged from time to time but as long as you can say that you asked for permission and that you got it, you're covered managerially.

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