Magazine article Personnel Journal

Legal Scrutiny Aims to Protect Workers from Exploitation

Magazine article Personnel Journal

Legal Scrutiny Aims to Protect Workers from Exploitation

Article excerpt

The continuing growth of the contingent work force appears likely to generate increased observation and scrutiny from a variety of government and legal sources. Fearing exploitation of part-time, temporary and other contingent workers, the Clinton administration already is planning to consider whether labor laws need to be modified to extend protections and benefits to such workers.

The Administration's chief concern is that the growth of the contingency work force will create a two-tier labor force: on one level, a dwindling core of full-time professionals and skilled employees with well-paying jobs that provide benefits and regular training; below them, a large, constantly recycling contingent work force of lesser-paid part-time workers, temporaries and independent contractors.

Some futurists believe this situation will affect buying patterns because an unpredictable income stream for contingent workers, coupled with uncertainty for those who remain employed full time, will make all consumers hesitant to make financial commitments for many years. This kind of situation could have serious consequences for the economy as a whole.

To preserve some degree of economic and social stability, some politicians argue that benefits such as health insurance, pensions, training and child care should be socialized and become defined as perquisites of citizenship rather than benefits tied to a particular job. President Clinton's health reform proposal is the first major step toward updating the social employment contract in this manner.

As Representative Patricia Schroeder (D-Colorado) explains: "If this is not a passing fad, and these contingent workers are so vital to the economy, it's time we think about providing them with the same legal protections and benefits enjoyed by traditional employees, such as health care, pensions, vacation and sick leave."

At this point, it's hard knowing what new legislation, if any, will be introduced related to contingent workers. But even if nothing new comes down the pike, employers have a host of existing U.S. and state labor laws to contend with. According to Edward Lenz, senior vice president of the National Association of Temporary Services, these include all of the civil rights laws, OSHA, the National Labor Relations Act, the minimum wage and overtime laws, and the recently enacted Family and Medical Leave Act, to name a few.

"Moreover," he says, "because the business using temporary help generally is held to be a joint employer, the worker has recourse against both the temporary-help agency and the employer for whom the work is performed. …

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