August 24, 2021

A Growing Workforce: What Is a Gig Worker?

Anna Keizer
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Gig economy workers are growing in numbers. At this point, they’re an integral part of the economy, because the economy of today demands something different. The project economy has created a new normal for how work gets done. And it has sculpted this new workforce to meet that demand. But what is a gig worker? Are they employees? Independent contractors? 

You might actually be a gig worker and still be a little fuzzy on this sector of the workforce.

Never fear. 

We're breaking down how to define gig workers, commonly associated gig worker jobs, and why employers of gig economy workers should value them just as much as they would their salaried employees.

Without further ado, let’s get into it!

So, what is a gig worker?

Let's define gig worker as a kind of freelancer, meaning they are not salaried employees (though, technically they can still be an employee on the books but we'll get into that later).

Typically, they perform jobs – gigs if you will – for a temporary length of time. Maybe a few hours in a week or a couple of months out of a year. Gig employees may also work for multiple clients at a time.

If you work in production, you might already know what is a gig worker even if you don’t have a gig worker definition off the top of your head. That’s because the production world consists largely of gig work.

Who is a gig worker specifically in the production world? 

Take your pick. 

From directors and DPs to gaffers and grips, gig economy workers are abundant in this industry.

Given that all of these people perform extremely specific jobs for a production that runs for only a temporary amount of time – perhaps one or two days for a commercial to several months for a feature film – it makes sense that most of the professionals in this field fall under the gig worker definition.

But the production world makes up only a percentage of the total number of gig economy workers out there. And odds are, you probably use the services of one or more gig employees every day.

Some other gig workers examples:

  • Babysitters
  • Consultants
  • Fitness trainers
  • Food delivery drivers
  • Freelance programmers
  • Freelance writers
  • Housecleaners
  • Landscapers
  • Rideshare drivers
  • Tutors

As you can tell, determining a gig employee relies little on the nature of the job. The examples given differ wildly in terms of the actual gig work being performed.

A gig worker again comes back to how the work is performed, such as it being temporary, extremely specific in nature where the worker is hired solely for that specific task, and in many cases, a type of work where the gig economy workers can set their own hours and rates.

That being said, there has been and likely will continue to be discussion over how people define gig worker.

For instance, what is a gig worker in California? Well, the recent debate over the state’s Proposition 22 and AB-5 law, which ultimately passed, indicates that companies and gig employees alike have strong opinions on the gig worker definition.

Why? Because it impacts significant aspects of the job, such as potential benefits and protections.

But we’ll get into that more in just a bit.

What are the differences between a gig worker vs independent contractor?

The short answer is none.

The way we define gig worker is synonymous with the way we define independent contractor.

Well, sort of.

It’s likely you may hear the term independent contractor when discussing your role rather than gig worker.

In many regards, the term gig workers is a colloquial one, so don’t let that trip you up when talking about a prospective job. But essentially, a freelancer or independent contractor is a gig worker. Though, a gig worker can also be an employee. This is especially true in the production world, and especially in California. Cast and crew are often considered employees based on classification laws, and yes, they are still gig workers because of the nature of how and when the work is performed. So said another way, if you’re a contractor, you’re a gig worker, if you’re a gig worker, you may not always be classified as a contractor.

One of the reasons why the term gig economy workers is being used more often is because a growing number of people are “gigging it” both by choice and out of necessity.

For some, the gig work they perform is their passion and acts as a side hustle, while maintaining their primary source of income. For others, their primary source of income comes from a series of gigs.

How do gig workers find work?

Gig workers can find jobs through the traditional routes that someone seeking a salaried position would explore.

And that largely means looking online. Both the dedicated sites of individual companies and sites that collate listings like Indeed or Monster now have job options for gig workers.

But if you work in the production world, you know that online listings are not generally the go-to source for finding work. It’s all about who you know, and personal referrals are still a hugely popular way to get work.

Gig work is often about being your own boss. As a result, it’s not so much about finding work as it is creating it.

Let’s take someone who wants to make money as a babysitter. They might create a website or a flyer that lists their experience and qualifications. They almost certainly will tell their friends and acquaintances that they’re available for work. And they probably will promote themselves through social media.

However you seek out work, there will likely always be someone looking to hire you.

What are the professional benefits for gig workers?

Well, we just mentioned one…you can be your own boss. You set your rates. You set your hours.

Another benefit that encompasses the gig worker definition is flexibility.

Many people are tired of or just not interested in the 9 to 5 way of life. Or they might have children they need to attend to during the day. Or they just like the peace and quiet that comes with working in the middle of the night.

The reasons are endless for why someone would want to determine their own work hours, and flexibility is a definite attraction for those curious about what’s a gig worker and thinking about becoming one. And this was even before the pandemic.

For many people, gig work means putting a few extra dollars in their pockets every week.

That’s exactly why rideshare and delivery driver positions have become so popular in recent years. Those who do it can work for a few hours every night or on weekends and earn enough money that it becomes a worthwhile supplement to their existing job.

Protections for gig workers?

But what happens if you suddenly lose your job working as a gig worker? Is there such a thing as gig workers unemployment? Well, yes and no.

Normally, the gig worker meaning translates into not qualifying for unemployment because gig employees and/or their employers do not pay into it as those with employee status normally would. However, COVID-19 changed all that…at least for a while.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or CARES Act went into effect in 2020 to help Americans suffering from job loss during the pandemic regardless of whether they were gig workers or employees.

But with the United States (somewhat) returning to a normal state of things, the last extension of the CARES Act will likely be the final one – and it expires on September 6, 2021. So if you have been relying on this supplemental income, or you think you qualify for it, you have a small window of time to get your benefits or prepare for when they disappear.


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How do employers find gig workers?

Even before the pandemic, the need for gig workers was and still is, on the upswing.

Regardless of industry, you can probably find the perfect fit for your needs through an online search but be prepared for a lot of results!

Word-of-mouth will never go out of style. Especially if you’re a producer or someone setting up a production, it’s probably second nature at this point to ask your colleagues and professional contacts for their recommendations when crewing up.

What are the professional benefits of hiring gig workers?

As a potential employer, the pros of hiring gig workers comes down to keeping money in your pocket. You don’t have to pay out vacation days, 401Ks, and in many cases, even health insurance. 

And when work is slow, you’re not tied to paying out annual salaries.

That’s probably the most significant advantage---you only hire them when there’s a gig.

Especially if you work in a seasonal industry or simply an unpredictable one, it can be highly challenging to keep even a few employees on the payroll when work dries up. 

So for you, what is a gig worker is someone who can potentially save you a considerable sum of money over a salaried employee.

For anyone in a hiring position within the production world, you already know that hiring gig workers is the go-to and generally only option, especially for when hiring locally for out of town gigs.

If you’re employing a lot of people, especially as often as a producer does, onboarding can become a hassle. Getting everyone paid the right rate for the right amount of time, simultaneously considering any dual rates, blended overtime, and ensuring compliance with all state and federal regulations, can be a logistical nightmare.

Use the services of a payroll company to help you onboard your workers and stay compliant from start to finish.

Keep your workers coming back

When you find someone who excels at their job, it’s in your best interest to have that person want to return for the next gig.

Gig workers typically go from job to job. And it’s not because they can’t be loyal, but by nature of their work, they’re going to take the higher paying gigs or the ones they enjoy the most.

Regardless of the industry, it can be a competitive market for gig workers. So what can you do as an employer to keep worker retention and contentment high?

For one, keep your gig workers happy.

Foster a positive work environment, provide the benefits you can when you can, even get a little crazy when it comes to hiring the best craft services company. But overall, just make them feel like a valued part of the team. Listen to their concerns and address them however you can.

Also, and this is very important it shouldn’t even need to be said but, make sure they are paid in a compliant manner! What are gig workers? People who deserve to receive their payment on time and without issue. Gig worker meaning translates into you not being legally required to provide benefits, so pay them accurately.

Whether that’s accurately calculating overtime rates, dual pay rates, union rates, or ensuring proper tax filings, compliance should be a priority for a slew of reasons.

The legal intricacies that come with hiring freelancers can quickly confuse and frustrate even the most seasoned employers. So do yourself a favor and don’t try to handle it all on your own. Wrapbook can address all of your compliance concerns - from payroll to onboarding to insurance with ease, so you don’t have to.

You’ll be happier, but more importantly, your workers will be happier and more likely to come back the next time you ring them up for a job.

Wrapping Up

What is a gig worker is a question that people on both sides of the employment equation should understand, as it can significantly impact their livelihoods and professional success.

Gig work has long been the norm for those in the production world, and it’s becoming an integral part of the economy as a whole.

To make more informed choices about the jobs you want or want to hire for, discover how to thrive in the gig economy today and in the future.

Last Updated 
August 24, 2021


At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice.  You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.

About the author
Anna Keizer

Anna Keizer originally hails from the Chicagoland area. After receiving her B.A. in Film/Video from Columbia College Chicago, she moved to California and finished her M.A. in Film Studies from Chapman University. She has also graduated from UCLA’s Writing for Television Professional Program and is currently in post-production on the short She Had It Coming, which she wrote and is executive producing.

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