Shared Employment Equals Shared Responsibility Under OSHA

Temporary employment agencies have been supplying labor to organizations across California for many decades. In recent years, PEOs (Professional Employer Organizations) have also become popular. While temp agencies focus on meeting short term labor needs, PEOs offer traditional businesses a way to outsource the management of their human capital. However, OSHA compliance requirements are similar for both—and these responsibilities reach farther than most people assume.

Primary Employers and Host Employers Must Ensure Worker Safety

The agency or organization supplying workers to a host employer is considered the primary employer and has a number of significant responsibilities. They must notify employees of their rights regarding workplace safety. This includes letting workers know that they can, without penalty, request to be reassigned if they are asked to perform work that they reasonably believe to be dangerous.

In addition, primary employers are responsible for periodic inspections of the host employer’s work site to evaluate conditions. They should also review the Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP) along with training and PPE to ensure these are adequate. Unfortunately, this mandate from Cal/OSHA assumes that PEOs and temp agencies are equipped to correctly evaluate a variety of worksites that may present an array of complex and changing hazards.

What Can Primary Employers Do?

It is clear that handling workforce administration from a remote office does not release a primary employer from responsibility for what happens on the work site. OSHA has demonstrated that the administration is more than willing to hold co-employers liable for penalties in the event of workplace injury. Cal/OSHA recommends that primary employers work closely with host employers to identify risks, put controls in place, and monitor safety on an ongoing basis. If an accident does occur, both co-employers are responsible for reporting to OSHA, investigating the accident, and ensuring measures are put in place to prevent a similar incident in the future. See the attached educational materials for additional recommendations.

Having More Eyes on Safety Can Be a Good Thing

Don’t let the old saying, “When everyone is responsible, no one is responsible” be true when it comes to co-employment. Instead, let shared responsibility exponentially increase safety for every employee. For PEOs and temp agencies that are concerned with worker well-being, it’s wise to partner with the host employer to bring in a third party to review the IIPP, training program, and PPE. Being proactive in creating a safer workplace demonstrates a good faith effort to comply with OSHA’s requirements and can significantly improve safety of workers on site.