October 2014

The challenge of temporary work

By Ellis Brasch

A big challenge of temporary work today is ensuring that the staffing agency and the host employer clearly understand their responsibilities to each other and to the worker.

If you are a certain age, you might remember "Kelly Girls" – the workers who filled in when companies temporarily needed secretaries and file clerks. They were among the first workers in this country hired and paid by one employer that sent them to do short-term work for another employer. That joint-employment relationship between a staffing agency and a "host employer," innovative at the time, plays a key role in today's labor market, but the nature of the work has changed dramatically. Today, temporary workers include accountants, assembly-line workers, nurses, doctors, construction workers, lawyers, and agricultural workers.

The need for temporary workers is growing in Oregon and across the country, as it has been since the 1970s. The Oregon Employment Department forecasts that the state's employment services industry will increase by 37 percent or 11,400 jobs by 2020 as more companies turn to temporary help firms to recruit, hire, and even supervise workers.

Temporary work has always been a good deal for businesses. It also gives employment opportunities to people who need work but can't find – or don't want – longer-term employment. But there is a dark side to temporary work, too. Consider the supervisor who doesn't care about his temporary workers because "they can always be replaced" or the staffing agency recruiter who is more concerned about employer satisfaction than workers' rights. Of course, not all supervisors and recruiters feel that way; but the fact that temporary workers have two employers with different business interests can leave the workers uninformed (and unprotected) when their safety is at risk.

A big challenge of temporary employment today is ensuring that the staffing agency and the host employer clearly understand their responsibilities to each other and to the worker. A successful joint-employer relationship requires ongoing cooperation and communication, and a clear understanding of the temporary worker's rights.

Temporary workers' rights

Temporary workers have the same rights and workplace safety protections as other workers. They have the right to report injuries, illnesses, and unsafe workplace conditions to their host employer or their staffing agency without fear of retaliation.

Temporary workers' safety on the job

The host employer and the staffing agency are both responsible for ensuring that the temporary worker has a safe place to work.

Typically, the host employer has the primary site-specific safety responsibilities, which include assessing hazards, enforcing safety requirements, and providing safety training in a language the workers understand.

The staffing agency is responsible for ensuring that it does not send its workers to workplaces with hazards that put them at risk and that they have been properly trained before they begin their jobs.

The host employer and the staffing agency should provide — separately or together — safety and health orientations for all temporary workers on new and existing projects. The orientation should include information about the host employer's safety program as well as the workers' rights and responsibilities.

Before a temporary worker begins work, both employers should review the job assignment, assess the hazards, determine what protective equipment is necessary, and identify required safety training.

Reporting and recording temporary worker injuries

Reporting injuries to Oregon OSHA: Either the staffing agency or the host employer must notify Oregon OSHA about a temporary employee's overnight hospitalization or death within the same time required for other injured workers – eight hours for fatalities and 24 hours for overnight hospitalizations. The staffing agency and the host employer should have a procedure that ensures both employers know when a temporary worker is injured on the job.

Recording injuries on the OSHA 300 and 300a forms: The employer who provides the temporary worker's day-to-day supervision – typically the host employer – is responsible for recording work-related injuries and illnesses on the OSHA 300 and 300a forms. That responsibility continues as long as the employer has day-to-day supervision over the worker.

Both employers should also consider joint investigations of accidents involving temporary workers. It is critical that the staffing agency and the host employer understand how such accidents happened and how to prevent them from happening again.  ▉

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