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What is a Temp Job?

Michael Pollick
Updated Jan 26, 2024
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Many companies find themselves in need of a temporary workforce, but hiring new employees for short-term assignments can be an expensive proposition. Fortunately, there are businesses which specialize in providing temporary labor and staffing for companies with such needs. Registered applicants with these temporary employment agencies may be called in to work what is known as a temp job, shorthand for "temporary employment." This type of job may last for a few days, weeks, or months, depending on the needs of the client.

A temp job is generally a light duty industrial or clerical position suitable for entry-level workers. On-the-job training can be minimal, so temporary workers should be able to take direction well and be able to adapt to a number of different working environments. A light industrial position, for example, may require the worker to operate a plastic injection mold one week and a drill press the next. A clerical job might require sorting mail one day and processing invoices the next.

Almost all temporary workers work for a professional job-staffing company, not the clients themselves. Companies pay the staffing business a negotiated fee for a set number of temporary workers, and the staffing company pays the employees' wages from that fee. Each job is designed to have a definite starting and end point, although a number of assignments often become open-ended. Some temporary employees could perform entry-level work at a company indefinitely, but their paychecks will always come through the staffing agency.

There are a number of reasons why a person might seek a temp job instead of permanent employment. Many temporary workers work full-time seasonal jobs that include several months of downtime, for example, so accepting a temporary position provides income without a difficult transition back to regular employment. Others may be pursuing careers in which a full-time "day job" would be difficult to maintain. Professional actors or other performers, for example, may need flexibility while auditioning for steadier work in their chosen fields.

Sometimes, a temp job can lead to a more permanent employment situation, especially if the client is seeking to hire a new employee. Turning a temporary position into a permanent one can be difficult, however. The agreement between the temporary staffing agency and the client may specifically prohibit permanent hires, or require a substantial fee to release the employee from his or her contract with the staffing agency. This practice is intended to discourage companies from using temporary staffing agencies as permanent job recruiters.

A temp job rarely pays more than a competitive minimum wage, and it may not include any employee benefits. Taxes and other deductions can be taken out legally before a paycheck is issued. Some agencies may pay daily for certain types of temp work, most notably manual day labor, while others process payroll checks weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. In some cases, a worker may be assigned to the same job for weeks, while others may have to accept a number of one or two day assignments.

Many people who become unemployed often turn to temporary work agencies for assistance, but the market can be variable according to the local economy. Some seasonal jobs are temporary as well. Many entry-level and first-time workers may discover that working a temp job or two is a good way to familiarize themselves with the working world before committing to a permanent career.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WiseGeek, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By pollick — On Sep 23, 2009

Many companies hire temporary and/or part time employees in order to avoid hiring a full time employee with benefits to perform routine work assignments. Once the workload decreases, the temporary workforce is usually let go and regular employees take over the tasks. In your situation, it sounds as if the employer knew the job was more than temporary, but didn't want to employ a new permanent worker. While employment laws cannot compel an employer to treat part-time or temporary workers better, you may be able to file a grievance with a labor board if you can prove a 40 hour work week and part-time employee status or pay rate.

By fpadi11a — On Feb 14, 2008

i have been a temporary part time employee but working full time for 2 years. is there a law against being employed as a temporary part time employee for extended periods of time?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WiseGeek, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range...
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