What is a worker? Definition and examples

A worker may be a person who works. Often, but not always, the term refers to a person with a manual or industrial job. However, we sometimes use the term with the same meaning as ’employee,’ as in: “Apple Inc. has more than 123,000 workers.”

The term may also refer to a member of the working class. Many people divide society into three classes: the working class, middle class, and upper class. Bill Gates and Queen Elizabeth, for example, belong to the upper class. Salaried lawyers, librarians, high school teachers, and other professionals belong to the middle class. A gardener, window cleaner, or miner are part of the working class.

In biology, workers are sexually underdeveloped and sterile members of an ant, bee, wasp, or termite colony. Workers perform most of the colony’s labor. Some workers also carry out protective duties.

If somebody works hard, it is common to refer to that person as a worker.

The ‘English Oxford Living Dictionaries’ has the following definitions of worker:

“1. A person who does a specified type of work or who works in a specified way. 2. An employee, especially one who does manual or non-executive work.”

“3. A person who works hard. 4. Used in Marxist or leftist contexts to refer to the working class.”

This article focuses on the meaning of the term when it relates to jobs.

Worker - definition and examples
The term ‘worker’ has several possible meanings. In politics, for example, the term tends to refer to people in the working class, rather than the middle or upper classes.

Worker – a factor of production

Factors of production are an economy’s building blocks. In other words, they are the inputs that people use to produce goods and deliver services.

We divide the factors of production into four categories:


Labor refers to the effort that people contribute to the production of goods and services.

A worker is in this category. Engineers, architects, drivers, or anybody who works are also in this category.


This factor includes land as well as anything that comes with the land. Forests, minerals, and rivers, for example, come with the land. Therefore, they belong to this category.


Capital includes buildings, machinery, and tools. It includes those elements that people use to produce things. Computers, vehicles, hammers, conveyor belts, and forklift trucks, for example, belong to this category.


We can also refer to this factor of production as enterprise. It is what people need to combine labor, capital, and land. In other words, what we need to combine the other factors of production.

Blue-collar and white-collar worker


A blue-collar worker is a working-class individual who does manual labor. In other words, they work with their hands, i.e., they do physical work.

A mechanic, window-cleaner, or somebody who works on the production line of a factory is a blue-collar worker.


A white-collar worker does non-manual work. In other words, non-physical work. For example, an office clerk or bank teller is a white-collar worker.

We can use the term ‘white-collar’ in various situations. For example, a white-collar crime refers to a crime that people commit in the office.

An accountant who commits fraud is involved in white-collar crime. Computer hacking is also another example of white-collar crime.

Worker vs. employee

We often use the two terms interchangeably. However, there are situations in which we can only use one term.

For example, it would sound strange if we referred to a member of the board of directors as a worker. If we had to choose between ‘worker’ and ’employee,’ most people would choose ‘employee’ when referring to a company director.

Legally, in most countries, an employee has entered into or works under the terms of a contract. Specifically, a contract of employment. The contract does not necessarily have to be a written one. It may be an oral contract or even one what is implied by the nature of the relationship.

According to the UK law firm FDA Law, to have employee status:

“1. An individual must be obliged to do the work personally (rather than being able to send a substitute). 2. The employer needs to be obliged to provide the work and the employee is obliged to accept the work.”

“3. The employer needs to have some control over the way the employee carries out the work.”

A worker has a ‘half-way house’ status between self-employed and employee. Legally, a worker is entitled to fewer statutory rights than an employee.