When Roberto-Fabio Nobile started his own business as an IT freelancer in the fall of 2021, it was a dream come true for him. He wanted to work independently on his web design projects and advise companies on social media. On your own account and on your own terms. Nobile had previously worked for a start-up, but now he wanted to go his own way.

He has been enthusiastic about the model for a long time: "Freelancers are something like external glasses for companies," he says. "As an outsider, you often bring completely different ideas to the table." The problem: For fear of bogus self-employment, many companies often opt for permanent employees or temporary workers instead of freelancers. "They prefer to be one hundred percent safe," says Nobile.

Is the "freelancer revolution" coming?

While Google, Meta and other tech companies from Silicon Valley employ mixed teams of permanent employees and freelancers as a matter of course and the business magazine "Forbes" has proclaimed the "Freelance Revolution" for the USA, "freelancers" still have a hard time in Germany. It is true that a shortage of skilled workers, digitization, new work and demographic change are also bringing good business to the solo self-employed in this country - this is the result of a study by the portal Freelance.de. At the same time, however, a research report by the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs shows that their number is declining. In 2020, it was a full 22 percent lower than in 2012.

The term "freelancer" comes from medieval English. Freelance knights were engaged for individual wars, they were, so to speak, rent lances ("lance"). Although the instrument of choice today is the computer rather than the lance, the term has remained. In Germany, one also speaks of freelancers or freelancers who work on a self-employed basis.

Fear of bogus self-employment

Self-employed persons have to pay tax on their profits themselves and, under certain circumstances, declare VAT. In many industries, they need a trade license. All freelancers are exempt from compulsory unemployment and accident insurance and do not have to pay into the statutory pension insurance, with the exception of a few professional groups such as self-employed midwives, sea pilots or artists. Companies have many advantages to hiring self-employed people instead of hiring permanent employees: freelancers do not enjoy protection against dismissal, cause less administrative work, and there are no social security contributions. At the same time, this is the biggest problem. This is because the self-employed, as lone fighters who sometimes work for a single client for months, are often hardly distinguishable from employees. Many entrepreneurs are therefore afraid of so-called bogus self-employment and shy away from hiring freelancers.

According to German social security law, a person is considered to be bogus self-employed if he or she only formally acts as an independent contractor, but de facto works like a dependent employee: for example, if the client orders where and when which task is to be performed. This is referred to as "being bound by instructions," says Markus Harant, a lawyer specializing in labor and corporate law. Freelancers are often considered bogus self-employed if they coordinate their vacation with others in the company, have a permanent job on the client's premises or receive a regular salary.