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Understanding Independent Contractor Agreements When Teaching English Online

online English teacher

So, you’ve aced the job interview and the demo class at the online English teaching company of your dreams. Congratulations! Now, all that’s left to do is to sign your contract. But before you put your John Hancock on that online document, you might want to take a closer look at the fine print. Let’s dive into the main things to look out for in independent contractor agreements when teaching English online.

If you’re new to teaching, you’ll want to get initial training and qualification with a TEFL certificate. You can explore our online TEFL courses to get started!

What are independent contractor agreements when teaching English online?

When you get hired by online ESL companies, you’ll most likely be working as an independent contractor rather than a traditional employee. This means that you’ll be paid for every class you give, and you’ll be responsible for sending in your invoice and paying your own taxes.

These, along with other conditions, will all be stated in the independent contractor agreement that you sign with the company. This type of contract is similar to those given to professionals who provide services to other businesses, such as consultants, actors, or project-based workers.

Working under an independent contractor agreement, which varies from the fixed work contract you may be familiar with if you’ve ever been considered an employee, comes with several benefits and drawbacks:

  • An independent contractor agreement grants you more freedom to make decisions, create your own work schedule, and have control over the way you teach.
  • You’re usually not bound to only one company.
  • On the flip side, independent contractors are usually not provided with benefits such as health insurance that a company employee generally receives.
  • Certain matters, like missed classes or teaching quality issues, may lead to salary deductions or even termination of the contract.

Read more about the pros and cons of teaching English online.

Allie, Teaching Online in Nicaragua
Allie, from the U.S., teaches English online for ESL company, PalFish.

Do all online tutoring companies require that I sign a contract?

Yes, most do. Before you officially begin to teach English online for a company, that company will typically ask you to sign an independent contractor agreement. This step usually comes after you’ve passed the demo lesson or completed the mandatory training that the online English tutoring company provides.

More than a mere formality, it’s important to sign a contract because:

  • It lets you determine if the online English teaching job is legitimate. If they don’t provide you with a valid contract, it could raise a red flag about the company’s legitimacy.
  • It will help back you up in case you run into problems with the company, such as if you aren’t paid fairly or you don’t receive the bonuses you were initially promised.

What should I look out for when reviewing an online English teaching contract?

From teaching rates to vacation time, understanding the specifics of independent contractor agreements when teaching English online is crucial, though not difficult at all! Here are 8 aspects you should review carefully and the questions you should ask yourself before you agree to the terms and conditions laid out in your contract.

1. Can I teach with other companies?

As an independent contractor, remember that you’re not supposed to be locked into one company or work with a set schedule. Teaching English online contracts should state that you’re rendering services (in this case, giving English classes) to a company and that you’re free to make your own hours.

If this is made explicit, you can rest assured that you can teach with multiple online companies, which is a great way to maximize bookings, as well as your income.

How much does an online ESL teacher make? Find out about teaching English online salaries.

2. Is there a minimum or maximum number of hours I can teach per week or month?

Although online ESL schools are not obligated to provide a minimum or a maximum number of teaching hours, many of them still do. These requirements vary from company to company.

  • A number of online ESL companies don’t require a minimum or a maximum number of hours.
  • For companies that do, the time commitment they require differs. For example, you may have to work a minimum of six or more hours, or you may only be able to teach 30 hours maximum.
  • Several companies require teachers to teach a certain number of hours during peak times (when they have the most students).
Rachel, from the U.S., is a VIPKid tutor
Rachel, from the U.S., is a VIPKid tutor

3. What is my base pay?

During your TEFL/TESOL job interview, your employer usually discusses or negotiates your base pay with you. Make sure to check that the rate that appears in your teaching English online independent contractor agreement is identical to the one you and the employer agreed upon.

Your base pay as an online English teacher can also differ from one company to another and can be affected by various factors, such as your qualifications and experience.

4. How and when will I be paid?

You definitely don’t want to have any issues when it comes to receiving your paycheck. So, prior to signing a contract when teaching English online, ensure that the following items are clearly stated:

  • The cut-off time for sending invoices
  • The company’s pay dates
  • The payment method (wire transfer, bank deposit, etc.)

5. What bonuses are available?

Each online ESL company has its own set of incentives and bonuses for teachers, which they should tell you about during the interview. These extra perks may come in the form of:

  • Performance bonuses
  • Perfect attendance or class completion bonuses
  • An enrollment bonus
  • Teacher referral rewards
  • Bonuses for teaching on weekends

As with base pay, see to it that the bonuses you were promised appear in your contract. Not getting the rewards you deserve could greatly affect your income, especially since earning bonuses is one of the ways to make the most money as an online English teacher.

Mari teaches English to young learners with GoGoKid

6. What is the cancellation policy for students and tutors?

It’s crucial to know what happens if you or your student can’t make it to class. Will you get paid if a student cancels a class on the same day? How many times can you cancel a booked lesson?

While not all online English companies have the same cancellation policies, the most important policies you should check are the following:

  • The period of time allowed for students and teachers to cancel a booked class in advance without fines
  • Salary deductions or penalties for class cancellations or teacher no-shows
  • Student no-show policies
  • The number of times teachers are allowed to cancel a class within a contract period
  • Procedures for canceling a class and notifying the company admin

7. What are the policies for vacation days and sick leave?

Since your schedule is totally up to you, you can choose your days off or take a vacation anytime. However, it’s important to know that companies don’t grant holidays or sickness allowances to independent contractors.

In some cases, a company may also ask you to inform them of your availability at least a month in advance. Sometimes, they also require a doctor’s note if you’re canceling due to a last-minute illness. So, ensure that these items are clarified in your contract.

Jonathan, from Argentina, teaches ESL to adults with Learnlight.

8. Can I leave anytime?

Although most independent contractor agreements for teaching English online typically last for six months, it’s not uncommon for some teachers to stop working for the school even before the contract term ends.

In general, an independent contractor agreement allows you and the online school to end the contract anytime. Nevertheless, you should check the protocol for leaving the school. Do you need to notify the school that you want to quit? How soon should you advise the company? Do you need to send a written notice to your employer?

If you’re wondering if there are any consequences to quitting a company before the contract expires, don’t worry! You’re not bound to stay with an online English school for a fixed period of time, so you won’t be in any trouble if you leave to teach online with another company — or to work as a freelancer! Just make sure to adhere to the contract cancelation guidelines so that you can use the company as a reference in the future.

  • Pro Tip: If you find any inconsistencies in your contract, don’t hesitate to mention them to your employer so they can discuss your doubts and revise some parts of the document if necessary.

Having an independent contractor agreement for teaching English online is crucial for verifying the company’s legitimacy and setting expectations about your work. Make sure that you’re clear about the nitty-gritty of your contract by checking the details mentioned above. That way, you’ll be confident that you’ll be teaching for a good company and that you’ll be correctly compensated for your hard work.

Want to boost your chances of getting hired by an online ESL company? Here are the mistakes you should avoid when applying for online teaching jobs.

Back in her hometown in the Philippines, Krzl worked as a writer at a TV station before moving to Chile. After she completed her TESOL certification, she worked for language institutes and then decided to become an independent English teacher to business professionals. When she’s not giving classes, she’s either surfing along Chile’s long stretch of coastline, traveling, or practicing photography by the beach.