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A subcontractor or subcontractors provides the basis of a work contract or employment contract of another company (main company) all or part of the main undertaking in relation to its clients on behalf owed service . The subcontractor is legally independent and free in the manner in which it performs its contract. Suppliers or sub-suppliers who therefore act on the basis of a sales contract are not referred to as subcontractors .

Instead of "subcontractors" or "subcontractors" one also speaks of subcontractors or subcontractors in legal transactions , for example in Section 4 (8) of the General Terms and Conditions for the Execution of Construction Services (VOB / B) .

Spread and reasons

The use of subcontractors occurs in particular in the construction industry , the logistics industry , the IT industry, the travel industry and in local public transport (ÖPNV) as well as in agriculture . In the travel industry, the individual transport companies, tour guides and hostels are used as subcontractors to a tour operator . The reasons are often cost savings, special skills of the subcontractor or overloading of the main company. In local public transport, mostly only a (larger) part of the transport services is provided by the main company, the remaining services are outsourced to (mostly different) subcontractors. Due to an EU regulation, the subcontractor quota must be below 50 percent.

Relationship between the main company and the client

Whether the main company may use subcontractors is determined by the contract with the client. If nothing is regulated, it must be clarified through interpretation whether the client may insist on the fulfillment of the contract by the main company alone, which is usually the case, for example, with artistic services or expert reports, otherwise the exception. By subcontractors caused service disruptions of the main company are treated for clients such as service disruptions by the main companies in proportion. Any negligence on the part of the subcontractor is attributed to the main company (legal term of so-called vicarious agents , cf. § 278 BGB). In relation to the client, the main company bears the risk of the subcontractor becoming insolvent .

Relationship of the subcontractor to the main company

The subcontractor provides its services on the basis of its own service or work contract (for the distinction from employment relationships, see bogus self-employment ). The subcontractor thus bears the calculation risk . In the event of service disruptions, the main company has the same rights as any purchaser or authorized service provider, although the main client regularly asserts claims against the main company and the latter "passes on" the claims to the subcontractor. Special regulations exist in the contract for work on the due date of the remuneration ( Section 641 (2) BGB).


The Latin prefix sub- means below or below . This is to be seen with regard to the status of contracted company (subcontractor) on the main company, which is to be located higher in the hierarchy .

See also