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Do temporary workers have any rights?

(MoneyWatch) If you need a job right now, temporary work is often a good route. Companies often are willing to hire you as a temp when they wouldn't hire you in a regular position.

But, it's not all a bed of roses. Temporary employees don't have any sense of job security. (Although employer can, generally, fire anyone, they usually do not. Almost all employers will work with a regular employee to solve problems before terminating the person.) They also do not work for the company they are assigned to, but rather, work for the temporary agency. In theory, that means the recruiter you deal with is your boss, not the person who tells you what to do every day.

But what rights do temporary workers have? Those supervising the work don't really care about the temp because they can be replaced. The recruiter you work with cares more about maintaining her contract with the company than making you happy. The end result can be a pretty miserable existence.

I asked employment attorney Donna Ballman, author of the upcoming Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired, what rights temporary employees have. She said:

Temporary employees have rights too! The agency placing them can't agree to discriminate. For instance, if a store, during busy season, says, "I only want white girls in their 20s" the agency is supposed to refuse. Of course, that's hard to do when it's your customer. The company could also be liable, either as the employer or as a joint employer with the agency, depending on how the relationship is structured. Companies sometimes get into trouble thinking they aren't liable for discrimination against temporary workers. Wrong!

So, the same rules apply. In fact, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) gives specific guidelines regarding temporary employees:

Staffing firm workers are generally covered under the anti- discrimination statutes. This is because they typically qualify as "employees" of the staffing firm, the client to whom they are assigned, or both. Thus, staffing firms and the clients to whom they assign workers may not discriminate against the workers on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability.

So, what steps should you take if your are being illegally discriminated against as a temporary employee?

Speak up! No one can fix the problem if you don't say anything.

Report the problem to both your temporary agency and the correct management chain at your assignment. They may say, "You are not an employee, therefore you cannot have access to our HR department." Fine. Tell them that this is an FYI. If you believe you are the victim of illegal discrimination (and remember, general bullying is not illegal), write your complaint with the title of "Formal Complaint of [sexual/racial/pregnancy discrimination]."

If the problem isn't fixed by speaking up, then you need to go to the next phase.

Report it to the relevant government agency. Never, ever falsify your time card. If you worked the hours, record the hours. If they refuse to pay earned overtime, report it to the Department of Labor. If your boss is sexually harassing you, report it to the EEOC.

Consider asking to be reassigned. If you wait until it blows up, the temporary agency will be more interested in appeasing their client than helping you. Moving to a new position may allow you to maintain income.

Companies need to be aware of how their managers are treating their temporary employees. They are real people, covered by real laws.

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