Employment agency rules

To protect the rights of workers, there are certain requirements placed on employment agencies and businesses. If your employment agency doesn't follow these rules then you can make a complaint to the Employment Agency Inspectorate (EAI).

Restrictions on employment agencies and businesses

The rules governing employment agencies apply if:

  • they are trying to find you temporary work
  • they are trying  to find you  permanent employment with a new employer

There are differences in the rules that apply, depending on whether you are looking for temporary or permanent work.

Responsibilities of agencies

If you are an agency worker using an agency to find you temporary work, your agency must give you written terms  before looking for work for you. These must include:

  • whether you are employed under a contract for services or a contract of employment
  • your notice period
  • your pay details
  • your holiday entitlement

Your agency must also

  • pay you for work you have done, even if the agency hasn’t been paid by the hiring company
  • be accurate when placing advertisements 

If a new job is offered to you, your agency must also give you the full written details of the  new job within three days. This must include:

  • who you will be working for
  • start date
  • likely duration of the work
  • type of work
  • location
  • hours
  • health and safety risks and steps the hirer has taken to control such risks
  • experience, training or qualifications needed for the role
  • any expenses payable
  • your rate of pay

Restrictions on agencies

If you are an agency worker using an agency, your agency can't:

  • charge you a fee for finding you work
  • change your terms with them without your permission
  • withhold payment of wages to you because you failed to produce a signed timesheet (however, the employment agency can make sure that you have actually worked)
  • penalise you for ending an assignment (however this doesn't apply if you are employed under a contract of employment)
  • stop you from taking a permanent job with a hiring company that you have temped with (although in certain circumstances, the agency can require a fee from the hiring company)
  • stop you registering with other agencies 
  • disclose information about you to any third parties (other than for legal purposes or to any professional body of which you are a member) or to a current employer without your permission 
  • enter into a contract with a hirer on your behalf or sign you up to a contract on behalf of a hirer 
  • make you use additional fee-paying services, provided by them or someone connected with them as a requirement for finding you work
  • supply you to a hirer to perform the work usually performed by their own employees who are involved in a strike or other industrial action

Fees and payments for services

Your employment agency can’t charge you a fee for finding or trying to find you work (except in the entertainment sector) but they can charge you for additional non-work-finding services such as buying training or uniforms.

However, they can't make you use such a fee-paying service provided by them or someone connected to them as a requirement for finding you work.

If your agency provides services which are charged for, you must be given full written details of the services including your right to cancel or withdraw from the services and the length of the notice period you must give.

You can cancel any paid services without suffering any penalty, including any services for accommodation, transport or training. However, you must give a minimum of 10 working days written notice to the agency to cancel living accommodation and a minimum of five working days notice for all other services.

If your agency sets out a longer notice period, then it is breaking the law and you could make a complaint about the agency. 

Working abroad

If you are looking for work abroad with an agency and they pay your travel expenses to the job, then the agency must also pay for your return fare:

  • when your job ends
  • if the job doesn't start
  • if they have a written agreement with your hiring company to pay
  • if your hiring company doesn’t pay for the return fare when they should

If you are accepting a job abroad you should check the written statement provided by your agency carefully to make sure that you are clear about the terms and conditions of the employment before you leave.

Workers under the age of 18

If the agency is arranging a job away from home (for example, abroad) for you then it must first obtain written consent from your parent or guardian.

Entertainment and modelling industries

If you use employment agencies to find you work in the entertainment or modelling industries then some slightly different rules apply to those agencies.

Fees payable by the hiring company

There are different fees that agencies and employers sometimes pay to each other. You should not be charged for any of the following fees.

Temp-to-perm fees

If your hiring company wants to take you on permanently they may have to pay your employment agency a ‘temp-to-perm’ fee.

Temp-to-temp fees

If your hiring company changes the agency they use but wants you to keep working for them as a temp, then they might request that you change or register with another agency. Your old agency could charge your hiring company a ‘temp-to-temp’ fee for your transfer to another agency.

Temp-to-third party fees

If your hiring company introduces you to another company that employs you directly your agency could charge the first business a ‘temp-to-third party’ fee.

Where to get help

The Employment Agency Inspectorate (EAI) investigates complaints about employment agencies or businesses. It is responsible for the regulation of agencies and businesses in Northern Ireland through enforcement of legislation governing their conduct.  They have powers to prosecute or apply to prohibit non-compliant agencies and businesses.

If you have a problem with an employment agency, you can contact the EAI or use the form at the link below to make a complaint.

If the agency has breached the terms of your contract you can take action yourself through the courts. If the agency makes an unlawful deduction from your pay you can complain to an Industrial Tribunal.

The Labour Relations Agency (LRA) offers free, confidential and impartial advice on all employment rights issues.

If you are a member of a trade union you can get help, advice and support from them

Prohibited agents

The following agents are prohibited from running, or being involved in the running of an employment agency or business in Northern Ireland:  

Name of prohibited agent Name of agency Sector Prohibited from: Prohibited until:
Patrick Duncan 'Dealers Agency' (Belfast) Actors / entertainers 28 October 2011 27 October 2019
Glyn Davies Formerly t/a 'Lothian Variety' and 'Emkay Lothian Entertainments' (Lothian Scotland) Entertainers / models 13 June 2011 12 December 2020
Mark Butler (McCrory) Universal Artists (Belfast) Actors / entertainers 6 July 2017 5 July 2027

Agents with conditions

The following agents are permitted to run or be involved in running an employment agency or employment business in Northern Ireland subject to certain conditions being met:

Name of prohibited agent Sector Conditions apply from: Conditions apply to:
Susan Davies Entertainers / models 13 June 2011 12 December 2020
Alison/Alexandra (Allie) Ford Actors / entertainers 6 July 2017 5 July 2027

For further information on these conditions please contact EAI.

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