Professional employer organizations (PEOs) enable clients to cost-effectively outsource the management of human resources, employee benefits, payroll and workers' compensation. PEO clients focus on their core competencies to maintain and grow their bottom line.
Any business can find value in a PEO relationship. An average client of a NAPEO member company is a business with 19 worksite employees. Increasingly, larger businesses also are finding value in a PEO arrangement, because PEOs offer robust Web-based HR technologies and expertise in HR management. PEOs can partner with companies that have 500 or more employees and work in conjunction with their existing human resources department.
PEO clients include many different types of businesses ranging from accounting firms to high-tech companies and small manufacturers. Many different types of professionals, including doctors, retailers, mechanics, engineers and plumbers, also benefit from PEO services.
Once a client company contracts with a PEO, the PEO will then co-employ the client's worksite employees. In the arrangement 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 worker. The PEO and client company share and allocate responsibilities and liabilities. The PEO assumes much of the responsibility and liability for the business of employment, such as risk management, human resource management, and payroll and employee tax compliance. The client company retains responsibility for and manages product development and production, business operations, marketing, sales, and service. The PEO and the client will share certain responsibilities for employment law compliance. As a co-employer, the PEO will often provide a complete human resource and benefit package for worksite employees.
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 owners do not have the necessary human resource training; payroll and accounting skills, the knowledge of regulatory compliance, or the backgrounds in risk management, insurance and employee benefit programs to meet the demands of being an employer. PEOs give small-group markets access to many benefits and employment amenities they would not have otherwise.
PEOs do not supply labor to worksites. PEOs supply services and benefits to a small business client and its existing workforce. PEOs enter into a co-employment arrangement typically involving all of the client's existing worksite employees in a long-term relationship, and sponsor benefit plans for the workers and provide human resources services to the worksite employer. In most cases, the PEO provides access to health insurance, retirement savings plans, and other critical employee benefits for the worksite employees of a small business client. If a PEO relationship is terminated, the workers’ co-employment arrangement with the PEO ceases, but they will continue as employees of the client.
By comparison, a leasing or staffing service supplies new workers, usually on a temporary or project-specific basis. These leased employees return to the staffing service for reassignment after completion of their work with the client company. Some define employee leasing as temporary employment arrangement where one or more workers selected by the leasing or staffing entity are assigned to a customer frequently for a fixed period of time or for a specific project. . Upon termination of the staffing or leasing company arrangement, the worker has no continuing employment relationship with the client.
Historically, leasing terminology was used to describe what has evolved into PEO relationships. Some older state statutes governing PEOs still use the leasing terminology, contributing to the confusion about PEOs.
Like a leasing situation, a temporary staffing service recruits and hires 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. These workers are traditionally only a small portion of the client's workforce.
PEOs do not supply labor to worksites. They co-employ existing permanent workforces and provide services and benefits to both the worksite employer and the employees.
Many states recognize the PEO as the employer of worksite employees for purposes of providing workers' compensation coverage.
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. In those states that require the PEO to report unemployment tax liability under its clients' account numbers, the PEO can still manage this responsibility.
PEOs assume responsibility and liability for payment of wages and compliance with the rules and regulations governing the reporting and payment of federal and state taxes on wages paid to its employees. PEOs have long established their role as reporting income and handling withholding, FICA and FUTA. In 2002, the IRS issued guidance confirming the ability of PEOs to offer qualified retirement benefits.
The PEO's economy of scale enables each client company to lower employment costs and increase the business's bottom line. The client can maintain a simple in-house HR infrastructure or none at all by relying on the PEO. The client also can reduce hiring overhead. The professionals at the PEO can provide critical assistance with employer compliance, which helps protect the client against liability. In many cases, the client can pay a small up-front cost for a significant technology and service infrastructure or platform provided by the PEO. In addition, the PEO provides time savings by handling routine and redundant tasks for its clients. This enables the business owner to focus on the company's core competency and grow its bottom line.
A number of state PEO licensing and registration laws require audited financial statements. In addition, the PEO industry best professional performance practices recommend audited financial statements in order to enhance internal controls and accuracy of financial information. While independent audits cannot prevent fraud or financial failure, they provide management with an independent review of and opinion that the financial statements of the entity are accurate, complete and fairly presented according to generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP).