States are increasingly hiring private military companies to act in zones where armed conflicts are occurring. The predominant feeling in the international community is that it would be best to regulate such companies. Cognizant of much confusion as to the status of the employees of private military companies under international humanitarian law, this article explains the laws on mercenaries, combatants and civilians and explores how private military companies' employees may fall into any of those categories. It demonstrates that the concept of mercenarism is unhelpful for regulating these companies and that it is unlikely that many of the employees of these companies can be considered to have combatant status. The article considers possible consequences of private military companies' employees having the status of civilians under international humanitarian law and their potential impact on regulating these companies effectively.