A professional employer organization (PEO) is an outsourcing firm which provides services to small and medium sized businesses (SMBs). Typically, the PEO offering may include human resource consulting, safety and risk mitigation services, payroll processing, employer payroll tax filing, workers' compensation insurance, health benefits, employers' practice and liability insurance (EPLI), retirement vehicles (401(k)), regulatory compliance assistance, workforce management technology, and training and development. The PEO enters into a contractual co-employment agreement with its clientele. Through co-employment, the PEO becomes the employer of record for tax purposes through filing payroll taxes under its own tax identification numbers. As of 2017, industry gross revenues were estimated to be over $174bn annually. In 2017, there were 907 PEOs operating in the United States, servicing 3.7mm worksite employees (WSEs), which were spread over approximately 175,000 PEO clients.
In co-employment, the PEO becomes the employer of record for tax purposes, filing paperwork under its own tax identification numbers. The client company continues to direct the employees' day-to-day activities. PEOs charge a service fee for taking over the human resources and payroll functions of the client company: typically, this is from 3 to 15% of total gross payroll. This fee is in addition to the normal employee overhead costs, such as the employer's share of FICA, Medicare, and unemployment insurance withholding.
One service provided by a PEO is to secure workers' compensation insurance coverage at a lower cost than client companies can obtain on an individual basis. Essentially, a PEO obtains workers' compensation coverage for its clients by negotiating insurance coverage that covers not just the PEO, but also the client companies. This is allowed because, legally, the PEO is the employer of the workers at the client companies.
PEOs can also offer basic levels of background & drug screening.
Using a PEO could potentially save the time and staff that would be used to prepare payroll and administer benefits plans, and may reduce legal liabilities or obligations to employees that it would otherwise have. The client company may also be able to offer a better overall package of benefits, and thus attract more skilled employees. The PEO model is therefore attractive to small and mid-sized businesses and associations, and PEO marketing is typically directed toward this segment.