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Temporary employees
  • Temporary employees are hired on a contract basis, usually for a limited time period.
  • Temporary staffing agencies provide employees to client companies to support or supplement their workforce in special situations such as employee absences and surging seasonal workloads, or to screen potential regular employees for possible hire.
  • There are several major advantages to utilizing temporary employees including greater availability, less training, reduced unemployment claims and permanent hiring advantages.

Temporary occupations range widely from secretary to computer systems analyst, and from general laborer to nurse. The employment services industry is generally defined by the following characteristics:

  • Employment placement agencies list vacancies and place regular employees. Typically, the agency interviews job seekers and tries to match their qualifications with those sought by employers for specific job openings.
  • Temporary staffing agencies provide employees to other organizations on a contract basis, usually for a limited period. A company typically contacts an agency to hire temporary employees, and the agency assigns the employee for a specified term.
  • Professional employer organizations provide human resources and human resources management services to staff client businesses. They also assign workers to client locations, and often manage and supervise the employees, thereby assuming responsibility as an employer while providing a cost-effective approach to the management of certain HR functions of its clients on a contract basis.

Temporary staffing agencies

Temporary staffing agencies provide employees to client companies to support or supplement their workforce in special situations such as employee absences and surging seasonal workloads, or to screen potential regular employees for possible hire after a period of time. Temporary workers are employed and paid by the staffing agency but are contracted out to the client company for either a prearranged fee or an agreed upon hourly wage. Some companies prefer to use temporary workers rather than employ regular staff who would typically receive greater salaries and benefits, require training, or otherwise be more costly to the employer in time, money, or resources.

Most temporary work assignments are of short duration, intended to replace a worker who is absent or to help with a short-term surge of work. However, assignments spanning several weeks or months may also be offered. There is no specific legal limit on how long a temporary worker can remain with the same host employer.

There are many advantages to using temporary workers. Some of the biggest include:

  • Availability — Temporary workers are usually available to start work relatively quickly after a client company requests workers from their staffing agency.
  • Less training — Temporary workers are usually brought in to do work that they are already trained to do and familiar with.
  • Reduced unemployment claims — In jobs where turnover is high, using temporary workers may lead to fewer unemployment claims.
  • No highs or lows when work fluctuates — Temporary workers can be made available when work is busy and do not need to be kept on when the workload decreases.
  • Permanent hiring advantages — High-performing temps can prove themselves and garner positive attention from management, often leading to permanent job offers backed up by actual performance results.

Alternatively, some potential problems with the use of temporary workers do exist. Some of these include:

  • Morale — Regular workers may see temporary workers as taking away possible overtime opportunities.
  • Suitability — In jobs where a temporary worker is likely to need company-specific or specialized training, it may be less costly to have a regular employee do the work.
  • Liability — Classifying someone as a temporary worker may not allow companies to evade certain regulatory and legal obligations.

Companies must communicate to their temporary staffing agency all pertinent workplace rules, health and safety protocols, and policies or programs. Companies should provide copies of all such written policies and programs as well as stipulate that compliance by workers is required.

Employers should note that temporary workers must be counted when determining employer coverage and employee eligibility under certain laws. For example, an employer with 15 employees from a temporary help agency and 40 permanent workers may be covered by the Family Medical Leave Act, which applies to employers with 50 or more employees spanning 20 or more workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year.

Common types of temporary help often used by companies include:

  • Vendor employees working on a client company's premises under vendor services agreements
  • Independent contractors and seasonal workers
  • Temporary employees who may become permanent employees
  • Long-term temporary employment contracts
  • Company “floaters” who are assigned as needed throughout company departments

Companies take advantage of these various temporary employment services to fill staffing and other business needs as well as using traditional temporary employees. Those needs may include obtaining specialized skills to complete a project, adding staff to meet production goals or deadlines, or utilizing flexible staffing to save in benefit costs. For an employer, additional advantages of using flexible staffing include a mutual understanding that the employment is limited in scope and term and also the option to terminate an employee without severance costs.

Safety of temporary employees

Temporary workers usually have a continuing relationship with their staffing agency as they move from job to job. The agency is aware of the type of work its employees are performing and should have a general idea of the hazards involved. The client company that utilizes the temporary worker generally provides the day-to-day job assignments and supervision and is aware of any worksite-specific hazards that should be communicated.

The client company, often called the “host employer,” has certain responsibilities, as does the temporary staffing agency. The host employer should have the same concern for the safety of its temporary employees as it does for the safety of its regular employees.

While temporary staffing agencies have a responsibility to keep their workers safe, OSHA places the primary responsibility for employee safety on the shoulders of the host employers. The reason for this distinction is because host employers generally create and control the hazards to which their temporary employees are exposed.

The extent to which a host employer is responsible for the safety of its temporary employees depends on these three things:

  1. The nature of the work being performed.
  2. The nature of the hazards in the facility.
  3. The level of day-to-day supervision the host employer exercises over the employees.

At a minimum, a host employer should confirm with the temporary staffing agency that temporary employees have been:

  • Trained in all necessary work practices so they can perform their jobs competently and safely;
  • Trained in the host employer's safety and health programs related to the jobs or processes they will be involved in;
  • Trained in the host employer's facility emergency action plan; and
  • Provided all OSHA-required tests, vaccinations, and medical evaluations appropriate under the circumstances of the host employer's business and the work they will be doing.

The temporary staffing agency should take responsibility for providing basic safety training to the extent possible without knowing the specific workplace hazards that may arise. This basic training will familiarize the worker with training requirements and prep them for more specialized training yet to come. Any agency-supplied training should be evaluated by the host employer to make sure it is effective and appropriate.

The host employer should have a clear idea of the jobs that will be assigned to the temporary employees and diligently identify any hazards involved. Once identified, these hazards will help indicate the particular training that is needed. If exposure monitoring or medical surveillance training is required, the host employer must ensure that it is provided.

Host employers must also ensure that temporary employees who claim to have prior training are, in fact, properly trained. For example, host employers that employ temporary forklift operators who claim prior training must evaluate the applicability and adequacy of their prior training to determine if all the OSHA-required training topics were covered. The host employer may use, but is not required to use, written documentation of the earlier training to determine if an individual has been properly trained. Additional training regarding circumstances specific to the host employer's workplace is almost certain to be necessary in every case.