Agency workers

Data from a recent ONS Labour Force Survey suggested that the total number of agency workers in the UK currently stands at around 865,000 and this figure is expected to rise to one million by 2020.

As the use of agency workers becomes ever more popular it is important that agency workers and employers using agency staff understand their rights and responsibilities to promote a good and productive working environment.

What is an agency worker?

An agency worker is someone with a special working arrangement.

  • An agency worker has a contract with an agency.
  • A 'hiring organisation' asks the agency to supply them with someone for a temporary assignment.
  • The agency sends the agency worker on suitable assignments.

When an agency worker is on assignment, they are temporarily under the supervision or direction of the 'hiring organisation' but still employed by their 'agency'.

An agency may sometimes be referred to as a temporary work agency, recruitment agency, staffing company or employment business.

An agency worker can also mean someone who has a contract with an entertainment and/or modelling agency. For more information on this sector, please visit GOV.UK - Charge fees as an entertainment and modelling agency.

Understanding the employment status of an agency worker

There are three main types of employment status.

  • Employees.
  • Workers.
  • Self-employed.

The employment status can usually be found in the contract. However, how the relationship works in practice is what will determine the actual employment status.

Workers

Many agency workers are classed as workers. Workers have some employment rights such as paid holiday and the National Minimum Wage. They will usually have few obligations, and may usually decline work offered to them.

Employees

Some agency workers are classed as employees. Employees are employed under a contract of service (or contract of employment). They have all the rights workers have plus others, such as being paid if work isn't available. However employees also have more obligations to the agency than workers. For example, employees may have to accept work offered to them and be available to work a minimum amount of hours each week.

Self-employed

If an agency worker is genuinely self-employed they will work under a contract for service. They are often referred to as contractors. They do not have employment rights and have fewer obligations to the agency than an employee or a worker. For example, they'll usually be able to send someone else in their place.

A self-employed agency worker could still have some protections under 'The Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003'. For example, the right to be paid even if the agency has not been paid by the hiring organisation. However working under these protections can indicate the agency worker is not genuinely self-employed and could impact their tax liability.

When registering with an agency a self-employed agency worker should confirm in writing if they wish to opt-out of the regulations.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of working as an agency worker?

The advantages of being an agency worker can include.

  • Working in lots of different places.
  • Trying different types of work.
  • Gaining work experience and learning new skills quickly.
  • Greater chance of flexibility to work at times that suit personal needs.
  • The possibility of permanent employment in the future if they impress the hiring organisation.

The disadvantages of being an agency worker can include.

  • Variations in the amount of hours available each week.
  • And, consequently, changes in how much pay is due each week.
  • Little or no notice of when an assignment will end.
  • Periods where little or no work is available.
  • The agency is not obliged to offer work.

What are the advantages and disadvantages for an organisation using agency workers?

For organisations, the advantages of using agency workers can include.

  • Quick way of recruiting staff.
  • A ready supply of workers who have the skills and qualifications to fill any roles.
  • A good way of seeing how an individual fits within a team.
  • Ensuring it can find specialists for projects.
  • Faster to resolve problems that may arise.
  • Cover for unforeseen absences at short notice.

The disadvantages of using agency workers can include.

  • Less control over the standards and methods of recruitment.
  • Increased staff turnover as agency workers move on to other assignments.
  • Reduced staff loyalty and engagement with big-picture projects and objectives that will continue beyond an assignment.
  • More expense in hiring an agency worker than employ a worker directly. An agency often charges management and administrative fees for using its agency worker.
  • It can be expensive to buy out an agency worker for a permanent job. 

Becoming an agency worker

Agencies will usually provide a potential new agency worker with all the information they require to register with them and start their first assignment. However, the nature of agency work means that an agency and agency worker may find it useful to have a general understanding of what the options and implications are when registering to become an agency worker.

For more information, go to Becoming an agency worker.

Rights when working as an agency worker

As with most employers, agencies will usually provide agency workers with their rights automatically. However, the nature of agency work means there are special situations that make it useful for both the agency and the agency worker to have a general understanding of how these rights work in practice.

For more information, go to Rights while working as an agency worker.

Ways to resolve matters that may arise as an agency worker

Many issues can be resolved quickly by having an informal conversation. If this does not resolve the issue and agency worker could consider raising a complaint or taking the matter further.

For more information, go to Ways to resolve matters that may arise as an agency worker.