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The term subcontractor refers to an independent entrepreneur who is commissioned by a main contractor to execute specific parts of a project or contract. This article provides a detailed explanation of the various aspects of subcontracting, its benefits and potential risks, as well as the legal framework in Germany.

Definition and Distinction

A subcontractor is an independent entrepreneur who is commissioned by a main contractor to execute specific parts of a project or contract. Subcontractors can be either natural or legal persons and operate in various industries and sectors, such as construction, crafts, IT, or the service sector. They are to be distinguished from freelancers, who usually work directly for end clients and do not employ their own staff.

Benefits of Subcontracting

Collaborating with subcontractors offers various benefits for both main contractors and subcontractors themselves:

  • Flexibility: Main contractors can respond flexibly to fluctuating order situations and capacity requirements by using subcontractors, without making long-term commitments.
  • Cost savings: By commissioning subcontractors, main contractors can reduce fixed costs and access specialized expertise without having to maintain their own staff in these areas.
  • Specialization: Subcontractors typically bring specific expertise and many years of experience in their field, which can enhance the quality of service delivery.
  • Self-responsibility: Subcontractors work independently and bear the entrepreneurial risk for their business area, which can relieve the main contractor.

Risks and Challenges

However, collaboration with subcontractors also involves some risks and challenges that are relevant to both main contractors and subcontractors:

  • Dependencies: Subcontractors are generally economically dependent on the contracting by the main contractor, which can lead to uncertainties and fluctuations in the order situation.
  • Quality control: The quality of services provided by subcontractors can vary greatly, posing a risk to main contractors since they are ultimately responsible for fulfilling contractual obligations to the end customer.
  • Legal framework: Collaboration with subcontractors is subject to certain legal frameworks and regulations that must be observed by both main contractors and subcontractors.

Legal Framework in Germany

In Germany, collaboration with subcontractors is legally regulated and subject to various laws and provisions:

  • Contract for work: The collaboration between the main contractor and subcontractor is usually based on a contract for work, which regulates the provision of services and remuneration. The main contractor owes the subcontractor the agreed remuneration, while the subcontractor is obliged to produce and hand over the agreed work.
  • Liability: The main contractor is liable to the end customer for the proper provision of services and compliance with contractual obligations. This includes the services of subcontractors who are acting on behalf of the main contractor. Internally, an agreement on liability and recourse claims can be made between the main contractor and the subcontractor.
  • False self-employment: Main contractors and subcontractors must ensure that the collaboration is not classified as false self-employment, as this can lead to significant back payments and penalties. The actual design of the collaboration, such as the level of instruction, integration into the company's organization, or dependence on one client, is decisive in this regard.
  • Social security aspects: Subcontractors are generally independent and therefore not subject to compulsory social insurance. However, they must ensure that they fulfill their social security obligations, such as paying contributions to the statutory pension insurance or securing themselves in case of illness, independently.
  • Procurement law: In the case of public contracts, main contractors and subcontractors must observe the provisions of procurement law, which are intended to ensure transparency, competition, and equal treatment of bidders.


The subcontractor is an important player in the modern economy, enabling main contractors to respond flexibly and cost-effectively to changing requirements. Collaboration with subcontractors offers both advantages and risks and is subject to certain legal frameworks in Germany that must be observed by both main contractors and subcontractors.