Employment is a contract between two parties, one being the employer and the other being the employee. In this relationship, the employer conceives of a productive activity, generally with the intention of creating financial revenues, and the employee contributes labour to the enterprise, usually in return for payment. Employment also exists in the public, nonprofit and household sectors. An employer is any entity that hires employees.

The employee may contribute to the evolution of the enterprise, but the employer maintains control over the productive infrastructure, such as intellectual property and business contacts. Many persons sell their labor without having legal standing as employees. These workers are called independent contractors.

Employment is almost universal in capitalist societies, while it was of minor significance in pre-capitalist societies. To the extent that employment or the economic equivalent is not universal, unemployment exists.