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Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is a PEO?

A professional employer organization (PEO) is a company which contractually assumes and manages critical human resource and personnel responsibilities and employer risks for its small to mid-sized businesses by establishing and maintaining an employer relationship with worksite employees.

2. Are PEOs recognized as employers?

The IRS acknowledges that a PEO may be the employer for federal income and unemployment taxes. Several states provide some form of licensing, registration, or regulation for PEOs. Moreover, many states statutorily recognize PEOs as the employer or co-employer of worksite employees for purposes of workers' compensation and state unemployment insurance taxes.

3. What is the difference between employee leasing and a PEO arrangement?

Although many still view these two staffing arrangements as the same, they are, in fact, quite different. The term "employee leasing" means different things to different people and has been, and continues to be, used in many diverse contexts.
The basis of employee leasing envisioned a transfer of certain responsibilities from a client to the employee leasing company and initiated the concept of "fire, hire, and lease back," which does not occur in a PEO arrangement. Some would define employee leasing as a supplemental, temporary employment arrangement where one or more workers are assigned to a customer for a fixed period of time, often for a specific project. This concept creates little long-term equity or investment between the worker and customer (much like leasing a car for two years and knowing that you are using it for a specific need but not building any long-term equity).

A PEO arrangement however, involves all or a significant number of the client workplace employees in a long-term, non-project related, employment relationship. The PEO assumes the employer responsibility for employment tax, benefit plans, and other human resource purposes. Through the use of a PEO relationship, client companies make a long-term investment in their workers, because the PEO provides health insurance, retirement savings plans, and other critical employee benefits for their worksite employees.

4. What is the difference between temporary staffing services and a PEO arrangement?

A temporary staffing service recruits employees and assigns them to clients to support or supplement the client's workforce in special work situations, such as employee absences, temporary skill shortages, or seasonal workloads. A PEO contractually assumes and manages employer responsibilities for all or a majority of a client's workforce. Worksite employees participate in the PEO's full range of employee benefits including, health, dental, and life insurance, vision care, and retirement savings plans.

5.  Who uses a PEO?

The average client customer of a PEO is a small business with 16 worksite employees, though larger businesses also find value in a PEO arrangement. These small business customers include every single type of business from accountants to zookeepers and every profession in between including doctors, retailers, mechanics and more.

6. How does a PEO arrangement work?

In the relationship among a PEO, a worksite employee, and a client company, there exists a co-employment relationship in which both the PEO and client company have an employment relationship with the employee. The PEO and client company contractually allocate some and share other employer responsibilities and liabilities. The PEO assumes responsibility and liability for the "business of employment" such as risk management, personnel management, human resource compliance, and payroll & employee tax compliance. The client company manages product development and production, marketing, sales, and service.
The PEO assumes and establishes an employment relationship with the worksite employee and provides a complete human resource and employee benefit package.

7. Why would a small business use a PEO?

Small business owners want to focus their time and energy on the "business of their business" and not on the "business of employment." As businesses grow, most small business owners don't have the necessary human resource training, payroll and accounting skills, knowledge of regulatory compliance or backgrounds in risk management, insurance and employee benefit programs to meet the demands of being an employer.

8. Does the small business owner lose control of his or her business? 

As co-employers, the PEO and small business owner become partners in the employment of their workers. The client retains ownership of the company. As co-employers, the PEO and client contractually share or assume employer responsibilities and liabilities. The PEO assumes a real and factual employer role. PEOs are responsible for payroll and employment taxes, maintaining employee records, reserve the ultimate right to hire and fire, and have the authority to resolve employee disputes. By shifting these responsibilities to the PEO, the client gains more command of the "core" revenue generating aspects of their business.

9. Why would a worker of a small business want a PEO as an employer?

Workers seek financial security, quality health insurance, a safe working environment, and opportunities for retirement savings. PEOs may provide Fortune 500 quality employee benefits including, health insurance and 401(k) savings plans, and aggressive workplace risk management. Job security is improved as the PEO's economy of scale permits a business to lower employment costs. Job satisfaction and productivity increases when workers are provided quality human resource services like employee manuals, grievance procedures, and improved communications.

10. Is this just a “fired and rehired” scheme?

Workers are never fired by the client business and rehired by the PEO. Instead, a worker becomes an employee of two employers in a contractual co-employment relationship. The PEO assumes employer responsibilities and liabilities for the human resource and personnel obligations of the worksite employees. This responsibility includes the employees’ wages and employment taxes, workers' compensation and unemployment insurance, and employee benefits. The small business retains employer responsibilities and supervision for the production of the products or the delivery of services.

11. Is this a scheme to avoid providing health or retirement saving benefits to rank and file workers?

No. In fact, a PEO arrangement is often the only opportunity for a worker of many small businesses to receive Fortune 500 quality employee benefits like health insurance, dental and vision care, life insurance and retirement saving plans.

12. Who is responsible for the employee's wages and employment taxes?

PEOs assume responsibility and liability for payment of wages and compliance with all rules and regulations governing the reporting and payment of federal and state taxes on wages paid to its employees. The Internal Revenue Service recognizes the PEO as the employer for federal income and unemployment taxes, and case law affirms the principle that the PEO is responsible for payroll taxes.

13.Who is responsible for state unemployment taxes?

As the employer for employment tax and employee benefits, PEOs assume responsibility and liability for payment of state unemployment taxes, and most states recognize the PEO as the responsible entity. A few states require the PEO to report unemployment tax liability under its clients' account number, and four states have laws that hold the client and PEO jointly liable for unemployment taxes.

14.Who is responsible for employment laws and regulations?

PEOs provide worksite employees with coverage under the entire spectrum of employment laws and regulations, including federal, state, and local discrimination laws, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Age Discrimination in Employment Act, ADA, FMLA, HIPAA, Equal Pay Act, and COBRA. In some cases, these laws would not apply to workers at small businesses without the PEO relationship, since many statutes have exemptions based upon the number of workers in a work force. Once included in the PEO's workforce, these laws protect the workers.

15.Who is responsible for workers' compensation?

Many states recognize the PEO as the employer of worksite employees for purposes of providing workers' compensation coverage.

16.Does a PEO arrangement impact a collective bargaining agreement?

PEOs work equally well in union and non-union workplaces. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recognizes that, in co-employment relationships, worksite employees may be included in the client employer's collective bargaining unit. Where a collective bargaining agreement exists, PEOs fully abide by the agreement's terms. PEOs endorse the rights of employees to organize, or not organize, according to standards of the NLRB.

17.Do PEOs need to be licensed to provide insurance benefits to their workers?

A PEO may sponsor employee benefit plans for its worksite employees. Such benefits are either mandated by law, such as workers' compensation and unemployment benefits, or voluntary, but desirable in attracting and retaining quality employees, such as health, life, dental and disability insurance. PEOs are consumers of insurance and procure these benefits from licensed insurance agents and authorized insurers.