Temp workers and independent contractors from overseas can be a security and regulatory challenge. One private sector proposal: Advocate Helen Krieble explains the Red Card Solution, a free-market background screening and smart card answer to temporary foreign workers in the U.S. It’s not a path to citizenship. It’s a path to legality for workers and the employers who need them. Photo courtesy redcardsolution.com, Sam Hurd

She’s a temp. She may also be a security danger.

Organizations, still facing a tight economy, often bring in temporary workers before or instead of hiring full-time workers. Others outsource tasks to firms who hire their own workers but handle assets of the hiring company.

These workers, often outside of traditional screening procedures, can open enterprises to vulnerabilities. It’s not a small matter.

About 2.01 million people are employed by staffing companies every business day. And 8.6 million temporary and contract employees are hired by U.S. staffing firms over the course of a given year. Surprisingly, about eight in ten (79 percent) of staffing employees work full time, virtually the same as the rest of the traditional work force.

No doubt, temporary and contract work provides a bridge to permanent employment. People can try out a prospective employer and showcase their skills for a permanent job.

• 88 percent of staffing employees say that temporary or contract work made them more employable.
• 77 percent of staffing employees say it’s a good way to obtain a permanent job.
• 80 percent of staffing clients say staffing firms offer a good way to find people who can become permanent employees.

But there are dangers.

For example, last year, the temporary and contract staffing turnover rate averaged 330 percent, a slight increase from 2008 (320 percent), but is at a similar level observed during the recession of 2001 (341 percent). Obviously a security challenge, this increase in turnover translates to a decrease in tenure for temporary and contract employees from 12.4 weeks in 2008 to 12.1 weeks in 2009.


There is also a tie into the immigration debate roiling the country.

Especially for specific industries and needs, U.S. firms now bring in a growing number of so-called “temps.” There are various categories (called classifications) of nonimmigrant visas for a person who wishes to work temporarily in the United States, based on the Immigration and Nationality Act. These people need a specific visa based on the purpose of travel and type of work. There are numerical limits in each classification and a need for an e-Verify background check for some. Categories can include specialty occupations that require the theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge requiring completion of a specific course of higher education, foreign nurses and seasonal agricultural workers, to name a few.

While Congress continues to decide or not on immigration policy, and businesses, especially high tech, demand to have their temp quotes increased, another idea has been kicking around called the Red Card Solution as an alternative means of welcoming workers securely and legally. Promoted by the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation, at the heart of the plan is a smart card, a new non-citizen work permit. The plan would let private employment agencies, licensed by the U.S. government, to open offices in foreign countries and issue non-citizen worker permits following a required detailed background check. This program is paid for by applicant fees and businesses that want legal workers – not by taxpayers.

Whether a temp comes from far away or a local staffing agency, more of them today have access – maybe too much – to enterprise computer systems, exposing businesses to potential security risks.


A survey by Websense of more than 100 temporary staff, the firm – a provider of unified content security – found that 88 percent were able to access documents from the company network drive, 62 percent had used someone else’s login details to access a work computer, 52 percent had used a colleague’s email account and 81 percent had unlimited access to the Internet from their work PC.

Beyond physical security needs, by neglecting to put procedures in place to protect against security breaches by temporary workers, businesses are risking potential large scale data theft. The fact that 80 percent of temporary staff has the same level of access to company documents as permanent staff, but without the same accountability, is a serious cause for concern.

Among other findings, 91 percent were able to print any work document they liked, and 37 percent were given access to passwords for company systems like invoicing, procurement and payroll. Additionally, 42 percent were able to connect a personal device like an iPod, USB stick, or PDA to their work PC, says Mark Murtagh of Websense.

Before a temp or independent contractor gets his or her hands on a warehouse door and computer keyboard, an essential first step is an appropriate background screening of the person, the providing agency or both.

“You have to screen them exactly like you screen your regular workers. They have access to physical areas and information,” and sometimes have less supervision, observes Jeff Wizceb, vice president business development at HR Plus, a division of AlliedBarton Security Services. He warns, however, that the information gathered from criminal, state and federal databases as well as credit reports, regulated under federal law, must be accurate. “It can be a complex process,” he adds. The Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, never cut-and-dry, now includes amendments set forth in the Consumer Credit Reporting Reform Act of 1996, intelligence authorization public law, the Consumer Reporting Employment Clarification Act of 1998, a section of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, parts of the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act (the USA PATRIOT Act), and the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions or FACT Act.

If that alphabet soup of confusion isn’t enough, a few states now prohibit the use of credit checks in employment screening, saying the practice in most circumstances is discriminatory.

It’s also a matter of how you request or ask questions of a temp, independent contractor or staffing agency, according to Wizceb. Certain corporate cultures have additional requirements such as a drug free workplace, and background screening must reflect those cultural needs, too.

Muddying matters, Wizceb points out, is the number of Web sites the can provide believable but falsified employee and credit documents in addition to references.

Enterprise security executives and their human resource colleagues should look into the National Association of Professional Background Screeners, a non-profit trade association which represents the interest of companies offering tenant, employment and background screening.

A step beyond background screening is better access controls and identity management of temps and independent contractors and on par with full-time employees. Card access controls can range from temp cards to proximity and biometrics to visitor IDs, more often linked into a computerized database.


Many agricultural workers in the U.S. and elsewhere are seasonal temps, with workers coming and going and moving with seasonal crops. Still, some employers see value in better access controls and identity management.

For example, Complejo Agroindustrial Beta, a Peruvian grower of fruits and vegetables, is using nearly 30 Schlage HandPunch terminals in a 2,000 acre field to record time and attendance, job functions and other data from its 3,000 workers. The readers automatically take a three-dimensional reading of the size and shape of a hand and verify the user’s identity in less than one second.

“Complejo Agroindustrial Beta was losing money on this project, in which land is being reclaimed from the desert, due to inaccurate payroll entries,” reports Juan Carlos Merino-Reyna Paso, general manager of Identitronics SAC, integrator of the project. “They couldn’t control hours posted in the field and were concerned about buddy-punching, in which one employee clocks in or out for another.

“To rectify this, the company didn’t want to use cards for identification because they would get lost or forgotten. With cards, it was estimated that approximately five percent, or 150 workers, a day couldn’t or wouldn’t punch in for one or another reason, resulting in a need for a department of typists to simply input their data. We selected hand geometry because people don’t forget their hands and fingerprint readers can’t read adequately in an agricultural environment.”

The terminals were installed in the fields within 1x1x2 meter enclosures. The people who work the land live around the property and approach it from a number of entrances. Once on the field, the workers go to the crop assigned to them for the day – one of up to 30 different crops, from asparagus to oranges – and clock in with their hands. They then use one of the special function keys to punch in a code that identifies what they will be doing – seeding, harvesting, applying fertilizer, etc. – as each job carries a different pay rate.


Visitor management systems also can play a role in security related to temps and independent contractors. Organizations really need to identify and track visitors with an integrated visitor tracking and management system that includes a badging printer and badges. Most brand name security management systems used to track employee access also have sophisticated visitor management options. For example, EasyLobby, with secure visitor management solutions, has an integration module with Schneider Electric’s Andover Continuum and TAC I/NET access control products.

And standalone visitor management systems can offer additional features such as scanning of driver’s license information, checking against ever-changing databases such as predators and red flagged people. A security officer, receptionist or department head sponsoring the temp can assign access control privileges, often over the corporate network, and verify that guests are tracked to a particular location.

Some key elements that a visitor management software module should include:

• Automatically emailing to the host upon a temp’s sign-in and sign out, along with the option of including a temp or independent contractor photo.
• Print visitor badges or labels.
• Define color codes for valid temps, about to expire and expired credentials.
• Sign-in/sign-out instructions defined per temp.
• Interface to the enterprise’s Intranet.

When it comes to temporary worker access controls into computer networks, PCs, shared printers and storage devices, things get a bit more dicey and often swing from cards and badges to identity management schemes.

The bottom line, you have to make sure a temp has access to everything he or she needs to get right down to work, but in a secure manner, says Lucy Sullivan of Novell, a provider of infrastructure software. Her point: Provision temp workers faster, and eliminate those tedious, labor-intensive manual procedures that usually accompany the hiring or staffing process. “It’s also important to have software that lets security revoke access immediately upon departure from an enterprise.

“Insiders now are often 48 percent or so of an organization’s overall data breaches,” says Sullivan. “Best of all, with provisioning, everything is verifiable, so you can both enforce and prove compliance with all the security policies in place at your company,” she adds. “And you can easily match the temporary staff to the entitlements that are specifically needed.”

The Virtual End around a Real Reference

Web-based firms such as CareerExcuse.com provide job and landlord references and even funeral excuses to employers considering hiring temps or independent contractors. 

Once a job candidate “outsources” job references to such a Web service, the firm supplies the candidate with a real company name, along with branch address and “800” number within 24 hours and have operators on standby to give any inquirers information the candidate created.

Common employer reference check questions, according to the CareerExcuse.com site, include:

• When did (name) work for your company? Could you confirm starting and ending employment dates? When did s/he leave the company?
• Why did (name) leave the company? (We always recommend laid-off due to lack of work)
• What was her/his ending salary?
• What was her/his position? Can you describe the job responsibilities?
• Could I briefly review (name’s) resume? Does the job title and job description match the position that (name) held?
• Did (name) miss a lot of work? Was s/he frequently late? Were there any issues you are aware of that impacted her/his job performance?
• Did (name) miss a lot of work? Was s/he frequently late? Were there any issues you are aware of that impacted her/his job performance?
• Did s/he get along well with management and co-workers?
• Was (name) promoted while with your company?
• Did (name) supervise other employees?
• Would you rehire (name) if the opportunity arose?