• Employment Law
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

From learning new skills to providing staff cover, everyone can benefit from temporary job placements.

Businesses can use secondments which allow you to stabilise job relations, as well as grow career development.

However, you need to provide all employment entitlements during a secondment. If not, you could be held liable for unfair dismissal and discrimination–leading to fines and disruptions for your organisation.

In this guide, we'll look at what a secondment is, legal rights for secondees, and how to manage temporary job placements.

What is a secondment?

A secondment is a term used when an employee works in a different job position, but only on a temporary arrangement.

This temporary transfer can include working for a different internal position within your organisation. Or it could be with different organisations altogether.

Secondments can be used to provide temporary cover, build relationships with clients, and even learn skills outside one's comfort zone.

It's important to note that secondment is not the same as an alternative placement or lateral career move. After a secondment period, the employee (or 'secondee') will ultimately return to their original employer.

What are the benefits of using a secondment?

Secondments offer a range of specific benefits to both the particular individual and the organisation. For example, a secondment allow:

  • Employees to work on their career development.
  • Employees to work with new colleagues on short-term projects.
  • Employees develop new skills and networking opportunities.
  • Organisations to manage staff levels of sick leave and short-term absences.
  • Organisations to avoid workplace redundancies and terminations.

Can an employer offer secondment internally and externally?

Yes, an employer can use an internal secondment, as well as external ones. But there are varying requirements for the two forms.

Internal secondment

An internal secondment is used when an employee temporarily moves to a department within the same organisation. For example, employees may learn specific skills by 'job-shadowing' under a line manager.

In larger organisations, it's easier to apply internal secondments. That's because these placements present a low-risk opportunity and can be planned informally.

The only specific details needed are:

  • The employee's duties during their secondment.
  • A decision on who their manager will be.
  • The location for where their job or department is.
  • An outline of employment rights (like pay benefit or workplace equality).

External secondment

An external secondment is used when an employee temporarily takes a new job position in a different organisation whilst remaining employed in their primary job. For example, they may cover a substantive post for a tech business that requires specific coding skills.

Before starting, external secondments must be added to an employee's contract. The contract term must be agreed to in writing and comply with all employment rights.

These agreements need to be signed by all three parties–the employee, their manager, and their host employer.

UK laws on secondment in the workplace

In the UK, there is no specific law on secondments. However, there are certain legal rights outlined during job transitions.

A secondee has legal rights which apply, regardless of their current team. For example:

  • A seconded employee does not owe duties solely to their host employer.
  • A host employer does not owe duties solely to their secondee employee.
  • A primary employer should aim to manage their own work activities that was previously done by the seconded employee.
  • A primary employer can carry out performance appraisals, disciplinary matters, and grievance procedures.

Both parties involved hold legal responsibility during an employee's secondment agreement. This includes building a safe and comfortable working environment. They also must adhere to specific contract rights and duties, whilst protecting their health, safety, and welfare at work.

Who pays an employee during a secondment?

The original employer will typically continue to pay a secondee's wages. This includes their salary, additional costs, and job expenses.

However, there are times where salary becomes affected whilst working on secondment. Here, both parties must establish who is liable for their salary.

The employee must continue paying financial requirements, like income tax and national insurance contributions, during their secondment.

How to manage a secondment in the workplace

As an employer, it's important to establish secondment periods with clarity and transparency.

Communicate with both the employee and external company involved in the process. That way, everyone relating to the job transition fully understands roles and expectations.

Here are ways to manage secondment in the workplace:

Create a secondment agreement

Employees can attend temporary placements after creating a secondment agreement. This is a document which outlines roles, rules, and requirements needed during secondments.

Your agreement should include:

  • Details of the employee chosen for secondment.
  • Location of where the secondment will take place.
  • Length of the secondment period.
  • Types of tasks or roles that need to be fulfilled.
  • Which job entitlements apply in the same way (refer to their employment contract).

Your secondment agreement should aim to outline every eventuality. This provides clarity during the period–leaving little room for disagreement.

Outline requirements during secondment

You need to outline the requirements expected from all three sides of a secondment offer. This allows the host organisation to fully acknowledge whether the employee is suitable for temporary placement.

For the employee, they should receive contractual benefits like:

These requirements must be agreed to by all three parties. Make sure the host organisation receives updates of any changes, as soon as possible.

Protect primary job roles

It's important to ensure a secondee's primary job role is protected whilst they're working in a new role.

Every original employer must ensure 'continuity’ of their primary job during a secondment agreement. That means, it's up to them to keep production going in the employee's absence.

Even if you hire someone to cover that role, you need to open it up to the employee when they return. And initiate all their employment rights, like holiday leave or pension pay.

If they believe they were unfairly dismissed, they could raise their grievance to an employment tribunal.

Choose secondees appropriately

As a manager, you need to appropriately choose employees for secondments. Consider each employee on an individual level before selecting them for temporary transfers.

Keep them informed throughout and make decisions on specific circumstances.

Remember, when it comes to selection, you must choose without causing discrimination or bias.

Highlight the return dates

The seconded employee must know when the end of the secondment is. Highlight their return dates and re-establish their past job role for them.

A good manager will keep regular contact with employees whilst they're away. This allows you to make sure they're comfortable working as a new team member.

They should only be involved in tasks and projects where necessary. Ensure they're removed from staff lists, and HR details are up to date when they return.

Get expert advice on secondment with Peninsula

When it comes to secondments, it might seem like your workforce is decreasing. But these temporary placements help develop new skills and experience. And this is something both an employee and a company can benefit from.

However, make sure you support all legal guidelines and requirements throughout this period. If not, you could be at risk of ruining employee relations, dismissing people unfairly, and even causing discrimination.

Peninsula offers expert advice on secondment. Our team offers unlimited 24-hour HR advice which is available 365 days a year.

Want to find out more? Book a free chat with one of our HR consultants. For further support, call 0800 051 3629.

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