It seems like every month another professional athlete is caught using a prohibited substance. The typical script (after getting caught) is to blame the maker of a supplement. “I should have more carefully checked the label,” or “I had no way of knowing what was in that synthetic elephant urine.”
Fair or unfair, every athlete knows that he/she is responsible for what goes into the athlete’s body, whether the juicing was intentional or not.
The same rule applies to companies who use staffing agencies.
When workers are deemed to be joint employees, both the staffing agency and the company that benefits from the services are responsible for failures to follow employment law. It doesn’t matter who made the mistake.
Under the FLSA, for example, employers must pay non-exempt employees a minimum wage, must pay for all hours worked, must pay overtime, and must properly calculate overtime rates. Sometimes this is hard. Two traps that ensnare even the most sophisticated employers are the challenge of accounting for off-the-clock work (checking email by cell phone, for example), and calculating the base hourly rate when there are bonuses and other forms of compensation provided.
Joint employment means joint liability. If the staffing agency responsible for paying employees makes an error, both companies are on the hook. That means a company can be responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages — including back pay, attorneys’ fees, and liquidated damages — for errors it had no control over.
When the potential exists for a finding of joint employment, be careful when selecting vendors who supply workers. Here are three tips:
- Be sure any vendors who supply workers are reputable, competent, professional, and reliable. (Four tips in one! you’ll thank me later)
- Be sure they stand behind their obligations with a suitable (and specific) indemnity clause.
- Be sure they are sufficiently insured.
Remember, under the FLSA (and many other laws), your company may be jointly liable for a staffing agency’s mistakes — even if you had no control over their pay practices.
Using staffing agency workers is like taking a performance supplement. It may enhance the bottom line and improve overall performance, but any funny business is your responsibility.
It doesn’t matter who put the horse steroid in your protein powder. If you ingest it, you are responsible for it.