Agency workers basic employment rights

Employment agencies are a useful source of ad hoc resources for companies who may require additional assistance from time to time. They can be used as a source of workers on short, medium or long-term contracts. When working for an employment agency you still have a number of agency worker rights which need to be respected.

Employment agencies

Even though the more common term is an employment agency, this type of business is also known as a:-

  • Recruitment agency
  • Temporary work agency
  • Staffing company
  • Employment business

It is important to appreciate there is no difference in the legal obligations of any of these companies in respect of those who are on their books.

Definition of an agency worker

Recently we have seen a significant number of changes with regard to employment law. It is therefore important to recognise the definition of an agency worker. You would be classed as an agency worker if all of the following conditions are met:-

  • You have a formal contract between you and an employment agency
  • You are supplied to employers by the agency on a temporary basis
  • When assigned, the employer manages your working day
  • You’re not self-employed

Despite the relatively strict criteria for an agency work, there is still some confusion where third parties are involved. For clarity, you are not classified as an agency worker if:-

  • You are self-employed although find work through a temporary work agency
  • You are part of a “managed service contract” where the agency manages your day-to-day working life
  • You are part of an in-house temporary staffing bank, only working for one business/service
  • You find employment through a recruitment agency or directly with an employer
  • You are on secondment, having been loaned from one organisation to another with no agency involvement

While these definitions are fairly focused, there are some grey areas and you may need to take advice.

Initial rights as an agency worker

When you apply to work through an employment agency they should provide a “key information document” containing the following information:-

  • Sample payslip
  • Confirmation of who pays you
  • Minimum rate of pay
  • Fees
  • Benefit entitlements

They are also obliged to provide you with terms of engagement which should include:-

  • The type of contract – contract of services or contract of employment
  • Notice period
  • Your pay
  • Your holiday entitlement

It is important to note that these terms and conditions cannot be changed by the agency without first informing you. If you agree, there are obliged to provide you with an updated document detailing the revised terms and conditions. This ensures there is maximum transparency and reduces any potential confusion should you wish to proceed and sign up.

Employment opportunities

Should employment opportunities arise which are suitable for your skills, the agency is obliged to provide you with a written statement. The statement must include a minimum of the following:-

  • Start date
  • Length of contract
  • Type of work
  • Personal expenses
  • Location
  • Working hours
  • Any health and safety risks
  • Experience, training or qualifications needed for the role

There is a general misconception that agency workers have reduced employment rights compared to their full-time counterparts. This is certainly not the case!

Employment rights as an agency worker

There are numerous legal protections that still cover agency workers. These include:-

  • Minimum wage regulations
  • Provision of payslips
  • No unlawful deductions from wages
  • Limitations on your working week
  • Entitlement to paid holidays
  • Right to be accompanied at a grievance/disciplinary hearing
  • Working in a safe workplace
  • Whistleblowing protection
  • Use of employment tribunals when pursuing a claim

In recent years we have seen a significant increase in legislation against discrimination. This can cover a wide range of areas as we have detailed below.

Protection against discrimination

In summary, any discrimination regulations which cover part-time/full-time employees will also cover agency workers. As a consequence it is illegal to discriminate against an individual because of:-

  • Age
  • Disabilities
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage
  • Civil partnership
  • Pregnancy
  • Maternity
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Beliefs
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

There is also an additional protection to ensure that those who work part-time are not discriminated against in anyway. This means that full-time workers and part-time workers will be made aware of relevant job opportunities, taking in their experience and skills, and considered on an equal basis.

Conclusion

When considering agency work it is important that you are aware of general working rights as well as the specific terms of engagement/employment through the agency. In years gone by agency workers received what can best be described as minimal protections compared to part-time/full-time employees. Thankfully, there have been significant changes to regulations in recent years with agency workers now enjoying enhanced protection.