Signed up and sold out?

Page a bunch of working Americans with a message to "call the office," and about 3 in 10 may wonder which office you're talking about.

Everyone knows flexibility is not just about rolling in two hours late then working through dinner.

In today's free-agent nation, full autonomy is the endgame. Work here. Work there. But always for yourself. Just shop your top skills to the highest bidder.

For some, it may be a winning formula. One survey by a Boston-based placement agency, Aquent, won mention in this space last fall. It said 4 out of 5 "independent professionals" - contractors of all stripes - had gone solo by choice. It also said they were outearning traditional "W2" workers.

Companies offer them no long-term promises. They offer none in return. It's fast and fruitful for all.

But not everyone sees such new arrangements in golden hues.

Organized labor has railed against the "just-in-time-workers" trend for years. It reasons that many workers hired for short-term, no-benefits gigs - and cast off when the need for their services ends - are being exploited.

There are plenty of cases to support either of those views.

Some companies do appear to be pushing the envelope these days, however, when it comes to "classifying" their workers - and so determining their eligibility for everything from stock options to basic insurance coverage.

Today's lead story explores the issue of misclassification, the casting of de facto full-time employees as something less.

Are companies playing with words to absolve themselves of an obligation to those who make them run?

It's fast becoming a matter for government agencies and courts.

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(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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