Transient Workers vs Temporary Workers: Know Your Training Obligations

By Jennifer Anderson
Last updated: May 18, 2017
Key Takeaways

Rights of transient and temporary workers and employer obligations to each.

There has traditionally been some confusion regarding what types of workers require training, benefits, and are covered by employer insurance policies. Contrary to what some individuals believe, all workers have rights. Rights and responsibilities of workers and employers differ based on the type of worker, whether the worker is a transient worker, temporary worker, or part-time employee.


Who Are Transient Workers?

A transient worker passes quickly through a place, picking up unskilled—usually poor paying—jobs that are short-term. Also referred to as peripatetic workers, transients work away from their normal work base, if they even have one, and are often paid in cash. It is not uncommon for transient workers to work alone in deplorable conditions including extreme heat or cold and/or confined spaces. They may be hired for late evening and night shifts, and deal with tools and equipment on which they have been given little or no training. Transient workers are often not given personal protective equipment, and may be working with harmful substances in unsafe health conditions.

Transient workers may be hired from a “pool” of people who hang out at a known location looking for work, or they may be approached and offered a job by someone needing a worker. Often these transient or migrant workers have no insurance for on-the-job injuries. Many of them are immigrants who are in the USA without documentation, drifters, or even ex-convicts. They will work for low rates because they cannot get full-time employment, and often perform the most dangerous jobs. Often, when job opportunities dry up, transient workers move on. Many have limited or no English proficiency, and seldom receive any training and protective measures required for safety in the workplace.


Employer Responsibilities to Transient Workers

There are American laws to protect transient or migrant workers. Unfortunately, because of their lack of literacy, problems with language, fear of being denied work or other situations, many of them do not exercise their employee rights. Under the Santiago Summit of the Americas Declaration,1998, the United States affirmed to "make special effort to guarantee the human rights of all transient and migrant workers and their families."

Each State has the right and responsibility to create a plan to protect migrant or transient workers, applying its legal framework and policies. As part of the Civil Rights Act, including Counsel for Immigration Related Unfair Employment Practices of 1987, undocumented, transient, and migratory workers do have rights. Many are unaware of their rights and are desperate to work anywhere doing anything. As a rule, these workers do not confront employers if they are exploited, abused, or denied safety equipment or medical assistance.

What Is a Temporary Worker?

In a temporary work or temporary employment situation, the employee is expected to work for the hiring employer within a specified period of time. This time period may be spelled out in days, weeks, months, or it may refer to the completion of a specified job or task. Temporary employees may be called contractual, seasonal, interim, or casual staff. They may also be referred to as freelancers, or temps.

Temporary employees might be hired to: meet increased seasonal customer demand, cover temporary surges in manufacturing orders, fill in for an employee who has been injured, is sick or is on maternity leave.

Temporary employees may be hired directly by the company through an online posting or a temporary employee site like,, Craigslist or They may also be obtained from a temporary staffing agency. If an agency provides the temporary employee, the employer pays a fee to the temp agency as well as what he pays the temporary employee. Online arrangements vary. Both employer and employee may have to pay a fee and/or a percentage of earnings to the online hiring company.


Why Do Employers Hire Temporary Employees?

Temporary employees are hired by a company to meet certain—usually short-term or seasonal—business demands. In hiring a temporary employee, the employer can avoid the costs of hiring a full-time or part-time employee. These costs include benefits, bonuses, and holiday pay. They rarely receive bonuses, benefits, or job security that regular employees come to expect.

By hiring a temporary employee, the employer gets someone with the specific skills or expertise he needs to complete a task. Such tasks might include computer technology, computer repair, network establishment, web design, brochure preparation, etc. and the employer uses the employee for as long as he needs those skills. He also does not have to find jobs for this person after that specific job, assignment, or seasonal time are over. Sometimes, the employer who proves himself an asset to the company is later hired as a full or part-time employee. In that case, his time as a temporary employee is seen as a sort of tryout, audition or apprenticeship for the job. When employers hire temps or freelancers, there is no guarantee or expectation of future employment.

What Are Employer Responsibilities to Workers?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has an alliance with the American Staffing Association (ASA). The two agencies have agreed to work together to protect temporary employees from workplace hazards. All workers—full-time, part-time, temporary, or transient—have the right to work in a safe environment, regardless of how long or short they have been on the job. The message will be carried to staffing agencies and employers to educate both employers and employees of these rights. It will also be shared in an outreach to workers about their rights.

OSHA and ASA will also work with staffing firms, host employers, and workers to educate them about recognition and prevention of workplace hazards. Information will be communicated by print, electronic media, electronic assistance tools, and on the websites of both OSHA and ASA.

How Is This Safety for Workers Enforced?

OSHA has received reports from various sources concerning injuries and fatalities involving temporary workers. Often these injuries occur when a worker is learning about equipment on his first few days on a job. In all reported cases OSHA conducted investigations into the injury or death.

OSHA also launched a campaign to protect temporary and transient workers. The agency sent a memorandum to regional administrators ordering that field inspectors conduct an assessment of whether employers who use temporary or transient workers are complying with their responsibilities under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. OSHA inspectors are using a newly created code to denote when temporary workers are exposed to safety and health dangers. They are also investigating whether temporary or transient workers received necessary safety training in a language they were able understand. OSHA has issued citations if it was shown that the employer failed to provide adequate protection and/or failed to provide sufficient safety training for the new worker.

How Are Part-time Employees Different from Temporary or Transient Workers?

If the job is deemed “part-time” it means that the employee has a contract as an employee not working 100% of the time. An employee may be 50%, 60% or any other percentage of full-timed employment. Part-time employees are eligible for benefits, bonuses and seniority that full-time employees receive according to the % of full-time they work. They are also protected by the same health and safety regulations as their full-time counterparts.

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