Temps and their rights
Agency workers, also known as 'temps', are eligible for many of the same rights as permanent or fixed-term workers, although they are not likely to receive as many benefits as those who are directly employed by the company.
Employment agencies and employment businesses are different things:
- an 'employment business' arranges temporary work for the benefit of participating employers
- an 'employment agency' is a company that recruits fixed-term or permanent roles for sourced employers (i.e. recruitment consultants)
Many companies in this sector combine these roles and are referred to as agencies, which is a term often used for both employment agencies and employment businesses.
Any agency should consult a candidate before putting them forward for a role with a prospective employer. An agency worker is defined through payment - if an employee is an agency worker, they are paid by the agency.
Permanent recruitment through agencies
There are important differences between ‘temp’ workers and those who have been placed on fixed-term or permanent roles through an employment agency. Inevitably an employee’s rights will depend upon their direct employer and their contract of employment or contract of services. An employment agency, however, will not pay an employee’s salary.
Alternatively, a candidate-sourcing service could be used - a recruiter may offer a service sourcing candidates for an employer with a particular role in mind. The employer would then hire the candidate themselves directly paying the agency a set fee dependent on the salary of their new employee.
When employed through the company rather than the agency, an employee will have alternative employment rights, qualifying as a direct permanent or fixed-term member of staff rather than an agency worker.
What is an agency worker?
Agency workers have either a written 'contract of employment' or a 'contract for service' between themselves and the recruiter finding them work. The service is often referred to as ‘temping’, short for ‘temporary work’, which is also known as ‘agency work’.
The company receiving the worker is responsible for paying a fee to the agency, covering the wage and a recruitment charge. The agency then pays the worker themselves with the money received.
Agencies are not entitled to charge jobseekers for finding them work, with the exception of those within entertainment and modeling industries.
The advantages of being an agency worker are:
- it can be used as an excellent way of gaining experience
- it can be an effective way of re-entering the job market without long-term commitment
- being able to be more flexible and more able to balance external responsibilities
- being able to work to little notice
- being able to explore different fields of work
Flexibility is the key selling point for agency work, although while it is beneficial in many ways as listed above, unfortunately it does not entitle the worker to many of the rights received by direct employees regarding redundancy pay or unfair dismissal. The hiring company is often eligible to end the temporary work with little or no notice, depending on the contract terms.
Looking for work through employment agencies
Agency workers have their own additional set of employment rights. Certain rules and restrictions have been put in place to protect those in a contract for service as a temporary worker, as well as jobseekers looking for permanent work through a recruiter. The rules differ depending on the nature of the work, and modeling and entertainment agencies come under different rules altogether.
In the event of an employment-related charge from an agency, a fully itemised note of services can be requested, including the right to cancel the service as well as the duration of the notice period you must give.
Cancelling any paid service should lawfully not incur a penalty. This includes expenses relating to employee accommodation, transport or training. However, for cancelling any living accommodation, a minimum of ten working days must be given. Any other services require five.
In the event that an employment agency sets out a longer period of notice than the above, they are doing so unlawfully, and this should be resolved, whether it be through a complaint about the agency to a professional body or a direct approach to an employment consultant within the agency.
This applies to both temporary agency workers and jobseekers using an employment agency to find new work.
A worker has the right to be paid by the agency for all worked hours, regardless of whether a timesheet has been completed, although the agency have the right to delay payment while conducting an investigation for a reasonable time period.
In the event that the agency has not been paid for a service provided, the worker could still be entitled to the agreed pay amount. If a company is not satisfied with services provided then this is a matter for the agency and the company to resolve.
An agency is lawfully obliged to set out written terms of employment prior to the commencing of work. These terms should include:
- a notice period
- relevant pay details
- details of employment, i.e. if you are under a contract of employment or contract for services
- leave and holiday entitlement
As with an employer, an agency is not allowed to alter terms and conditions without further consultation with the worker. In the event that the worker agrees to any changes set out by the agency, a new document with a fully detailed account of amendments must be produced, signed and countersigned to record acknowledgement and approval from the worker.
All information retained by an agency is highly confidential and all workers’ details are protected by the Data Protection Act.
Agencies must always be honest in the job descriptions presented to workers and advertised externally. Applying to both temporary workers and permanent placements, below are points of basic information that should be received on the commencement of a role:
- hourly rate / salary
- commencing date
- an approximation of working duration
- working hours, with any details of flexible working
- person specification for the role
- details regarding duties
- health and safety risks and controls
- any expenses to be incurred
Additional restrictions on what employment agencies can do prevent them from:
- Signing a contract, or entering into any contract, verbal or written, on the behalf of a worker
- Filling a gap in a workforce brought about by a strike or industrial action
In the event that an agricultural worker uses an agency to find work, the agency would be known as a gangmaster, and is likely to cover the following areas:
- shellfish gathering
- food and drink processing and packaging
Gangmasters require a licence and must be registered with the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.
Overseas working with a UK agency
In the instance that a worker is offered either temporary or permanent work abroad, certain checks must be carried out - for example, confirmation must be reached that the hiring company holds a business premises in the UK. In the event that they don’t, the agency is entitled to ask the hiring company for a statement in writing which will establish that the proposed work won't be unfavorable to the worker’s interests.
An agency or hirer is legally obliged to inform workers of any travel costs that will be incurred, and in the event that an outbound travel ticket is covered in expenses, so must the return ticket. A worker must also be informed of the following:
- start date
- any up-to-date details of cancellation or the postponing of the start date within a justifiable time frame
- if there is a written agreement between the hiring company and the agency
- if the return fare is not covered as proposed by the hiring company
When accepting a job based abroad, the worker, as with any other contract, should inspect the written statement carefully upon receiving it from the agency. It is always advised to clarify any uncertain areas before leaving the country.
Agency workers under the age of 18
Any workers under 18 years of age are entitled to additional protections set out to protect young workers from exploitation. In the event that a minor is expected to work within school hours, the agency must establish confirmation regarding the worker's receipt of vocational guidance from a local careers service.
When arranging work abroad for a minor, the agency must gain the consent of the parent(s) or guardian(s) first.
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