According to the American Staffing Association, there are three million temporary or contract employees working in the U.S. during an average week.1 Temporary employees are defined as "at-will" workers who can work on a part-time, full-time, or seasonal basis.2 They may be paid an hourly wage or salaried. They are usually considered employees of a company or of a staffing agency.2 For the purposes of this article, we will refer to non-temporary employees as those that are hired with the company, or your "regular" employees/permanent employees.

Many food manufacturers utilize temporary employees in their facilities, for a wide variety of reasons:

  • It may be difficult to get full-time employees in the area, and so temporary workforce is used to satisfy the gap.
  • A facility may not have recruiters or a human resources department, so the facility uses staffing agencies as a recruiting method.
  • The facility has full-time positions available, and as a screening process the company hires people as temporary workers. If both the employee and the company agree on suitability, then the temporary worker can be hired on as a permanent employee.
  • Temporary employees can help with workload management. Rather than asking your permanent employees to work more overtime or extra shifts, causing burnout and potentially staff turnover, temporary employees can help manage production needs. Workload can vary for many reasons:
  1. Production is not stable, whether because of product orders or seasonality of product.
  2. Projects or other production disruptions are happening (e.g., extra sanitation help is needed to clean up during construction, or additional help is needed while onboarding a new customer relationship management system).
  3. Staff are out on family leave or vacation.
  • To help satisfy a skills gap in the existing workforce (e.g., engineering, IT, administrative).
  • Challenges to Using Temporary Workforce

    For the aforementioned reasons and others, temporary employees can be a cost-effective staffing resource for a food manufacturing facility. However, the use of temporary employees can also bring some challenges, as outlined below.

    Workplace Culture

    Since the temporary worker is not necessarily an employee of the company, they may not feel the same amount of accountability and investment to the facility or the product. They may not get the same satisfaction as permanent employees, which could affect their commitment and performance. Since the temporary worker may not be full time, or are at the facility for less time overall, they may not feel like part of the team. In addition, permanent employees may not feel the need to invest time into building teamwork with the temporary employees since the temporary workers will not be there long term.

    The lack of investment in performance or collaboration and integration can be contagious to permanent employees, causing their performance and camaraderie to decrease. If permanent employees see the temporary workforce as a threat to their stability, growth, or opportunities, then active animosity may also arise and need to be managed. Most facilities strongly encourage a team dynamic as part of their workplace culture, which is an influence that must be actively managed.

    Legal and Labor Relations

    Ensure that all relevant federal, state, and/or local laws are being followed. There are numerous examples of companies who use temporary workers but do not comply with wage and overtime requirements, anti-discrimination laws, employee privacy requirements, tax laws, immigration laws, and other laws. In addition, even within the temporary employee realm, there is a legal definition between a contract worker and a temporary worker. Even if you are using a staffing agency, your facility can be held liable if the staffing agency is not following the appropriate regulations.

    Hourly Wage

    The facility pays a wage for the temporary worker; however, the staffing agency adds a service fee to that wage. In some circumstances, the hourly wage plus service fees may be higher than the wages paid to the permanent employee.


    Temporary employees are more likely to be hurt on the job, and their injuries are more severe when compared to permanent employees.3 Recently, OSHA published a news release about a food facility being fined $1.9 million in penalties because a temporary employee fell into a blender and was severely injured, requiring his leg to be amputated.4 Injuries experienced by temporary employees do affect your recordable injury rate (RIR) on your OSHA 300 Log.

    Food Safety

    Human errors can cause food safety and quality issues with your product. Due to employee mistakes, product could be wasted or downgraded. Whether you sell to consumers or to other businesses, mistakes can cause customer complaints and impact long-term relationships with customers. Errors cause issues that lead to recalls and potential long-term brand damage. A recent analysis of FDA food recalls from 2013–2019 revealed 1,471 food allergen recalls.5 For the recalls with a known root cause, 71.1 percent were attributed to a labeling issue and 23.4 percent were caused by cross-contamination.7 Faults made by personnel accounted for some of these preventable recalls. Changeover issues, incorrect packaging, missed label checks, violating allergen color codes, etc., are routinely cited.

    Strategies to Manage Temporary Employees

    If your company is utilizing temporary employees in its workforce, what can be done to manage those challenges so that they do not cause problems in your food manufacturing facility?


    "I do not know why they did that; it is common sense not to do that," is a common phrase—usually uttered in an exasperated tone—that is heard on both the factory floor and in the office. Regardless of the topic, in my training, I tell people, "Common sense is not common. You need to train and ensure that the training was effective. Do not assume the person knows something."

    OSHA requires the training of your temporary employees to be identical or equivalent to the training provided to your regular employees. The OSHA act requires all facilities "to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women."6 Temporary employees often bring unique challenges such as varying skill levels and limited familiarity with company programs. It is important to ensure that temporary employees receive the required training to do their jobs correctly and safely. A comprehensive onboarding process is essential. If temporary employees fully understand the tasks they are being asked to do, and how those tasks fit into the larger production facility and the product, then they are more likely to be productive and make less mistakes.

    Confirm that you are using good adult industry training techniques. As adults, we do not learn the same way as we do in our youth, and we do not retain information in the same way. Consequently, you need to ensure that your training is effective and not overwhelming. Ensure that the training is practical and relevant, use stories and experiences, and utilize "what is in it for me?" analogies. Adults learn better when they can apply knowledge to something they already know (i.e., schema development). Adults want to be seen as capable and respected, and they want to utilize their experiences in training. Adults also learn better when they utilize multiple styles (seeing, hearing, and doing). To help keep adults engaged, ensure a fun learning environment. Ensure that the training environment is not intimidating. Fun and relaxed learners are more receptive to information. Ensure that adult learners know the agenda and the expectations for the training. Allow them time to reflect on the training, but ask them to apply their learnings quickly. Numerous training and development articles explain the techniques of how to effectively train personnel, including in past issues of Food Safety Magazine.

    On average, it takes eight months for a new hire to reach productivity,7 although some industry training journals report that it could take as long as two years; however, you likely will not have that much time with the temporary employee. Look at content of your training materials, as well as techniques. Ensure that the temporary employee is getting the correct information for the tasks they will be doing. You may need to reduce the amount of complex and overwhelming information. Consequently, you may need to evaluate your position descriptions and pick those tasks/jobs that a temporary employee can be trained to complete. This may require you to modify job duties so that more experienced, senior, or permanent employees perform sensitive tasks that require more experience and knowledge to accomplish safely. For example, ensure that a permanent employee is overseeing your preventive controls or critical control points, in-process testing, and other critical tasks.

    Also ensure that your temporary employees are set up for success. If your training methodology is the "sink-or-swim" method, expect that there will be issues and mistakes. Although training takes time, money, and resources, so do corrective actions, recalls, and injuries. Training is a key risk management tool.

    Skills Assessment

    Along with training, ensure that the temporary employee is capable of the tasks that you will need them to perform. Examples of pre-assessment tests include physical ability, cognitive ability, reading/writing comprehension, situational judgement, or position-specific skills. Understanding their physical abilities and skillset will help you determine how best to align them with your facility and their abilities, which will optimize everyone's performance.

    Performance Monitoring

    Ensure that you have a program in place that monitors the performance of your employees, both permanent and temporary. Regular feedback will boost morale and motivation to succeed. Ensure that the feedback aligns with temporary employees' goals and expectations. Consider performance-based incentives to motivate and encourage temporary employees to be invested in their roles and to increase job satisfaction and performance.

    Workplace Culture

    Train your supervisors and managers in how to manage potential negative effects on your workplace culture with techniques for ensuring teamwork with temporary employees. Temporary employees should be treated as another person who is there to complete a job or make a product. Foster a collaborative environment by reducing friction and making everyone feel valued. Managers will need training and strategies to manage the social integration components of the shift or crew.

    Many facilities create a way to easily distinguish a new or temporary employee—for example, different-colored uniforms or bump caps. This is not to segregate them as a different classification, but to help more experienced, permanent employees keep an eye on them, to aid them if they are struggling with a task, or to ensure that they are performing their tasks safely. It is important that this activity is administered as a fellow team member and not in a "regulatory" fashion.

    Ensure that your management are using positive reinforcement techniques to foster camaraderie and not antipathy between your employees. Incentives do not always have to be monetary, but could be recognition, flexibility in scheduling, free product, and other benefits associated with the company.

    Clear and Transparent Expectations

    Ensure that communication is clear between team members. Encourage management to regularly check in with all employees (both permanent and temporary) to ensure that concerns are heard and handled regularly. Ensure that expectations for all staff are clearly communicated and transparent, so that no one is confused. In addition, make sure the temporary employee understands their work schedule and their responsibilities. When people are unsure of their job requirements or expectations, they have a tendency to perform tasks unsafely and inefficiently. Remove that ambiguous thinking with clear communication.

    Succession Planning

    If potential or open positions exist for which the temporary employee could be eligible to apply, make sure the employee knows the requirements. Implement a succession plan that identifies high-performing temporary employees who may be candidates for permanent positions within the facility.

    Staffing Agencies

    If you use a staffing agency, work with the staffing agency on understanding its policies around wages and labor laws to ensure that it is complying with the relevant laws. Ensure that the appropriate documentation is rigorously correct. Frequently, onsite management needs to sign off (via paper or electronically) the time worked by the employee. Make sure it is accurate and complete prior to acknowledging. Management may need training to ensure that they understand what they are signing and the ramifications around violating labor laws.

    In addition, foster a business relationship with the staffing agency. The staffing agency may be able to complete some of the tasks around managing a temporary worker. They may be able to conduct the skills assessment as a pre-placement activity. Consequently, the temporary workforce will be better prepared on day one for the job and the facility. In some cases, the staffing agency can also conduct some of the training; however, your company will still need to ensure that it was effective.

    Continuous Improvement

    When able, conduct exit interviews with your temporary employees to get feedback on their working experience. This information can be valuable and allow you to correct course, when necessary. As with all processes, continuously improve. Regularly assess and refine your strategies based on feedback from temporary and permanent employees and your performance metrics.


    Temporary employees are frequently utilized in food manufacturing facilities, bringing numerous advantages as well as additional tasks and, sometimes, challenges. It is important to supervise your temporary employees with proper training, skills assessment, clear expectations, good communication, and performance monitoring. Ensure that your shift management personnel are properly trained in how to manage the shift integration and teamwork between your temporary and permanent employees. If you are utilizing a staffing agency, ensure that it is following all the relevant laws and regulations around employment. By implementing these strategies, organizations can optimize the contributions of temporary employees to foster a positive work environment and culture and, ultimately, enhance overall productivity.


    The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA), in partnership with several organizations, have created a best practices document and checklist for hosting temporary workers.


    1. American Staffing Association. "Staffing Industry Statistics." 2022.
    2. Elliott, J. "Temporary vs. Contract Employee: What's the Difference?" CO. January 25, 2022.
    3. Menger-Ogle, L., D. Baker, R. J. Guerin, and T. R. Cunningham. "A staffing perspective on barriers to and facilitators of temporary worker safety and health." American Journal of Industrial Medicine 66, no. 9 (September 2023): 736–749
    4. U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). U.S. Department of Labor. "US Department of Labor investigation of 29-year-old sanitation worker's leg amputation finds Ohio food processor again ignored safety standards." April 6, 2023.
    5. "Most Major Food Allergen Recalls Caused by Preventable Labeling Errors, Study Finds." Food Safety Magazine. April 10 2023.
    6. OSHA. "OSH Act of 1970." December 29, 1970, as amended through January 1, 2004.
    7. AlliedHR. "2012 Allied Workforce Mobility Survey: Onboarding and Retention." AlliedHR IQ. 2012.

    Janna Hamlett, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor at the University of Idaho Extension and a Food Processing Specialist with TechHelp, Idaho's Manufacturing Extension Partnership Center. She has over 15 years of experience in the food manufacturing industry, with a background in quality and operations management including numerous certifications in lean processing management, personnel safety, and food safety and quality programs.