Navigating the complex world of employment laws, tax regulations, and compliance measures is a challenging task for any staffing firm. As your business expands, these complexities multiply, potentially leading to significant legal and financial liabilities. This guide aims to explain three similar but crucially different HR service providers - PEO (Professional Employer Organization), EOR (Employer of Record), and AOR (Agent of Record). Understanding these terms can help you manage your liabilities and make informed decisions about your growth strategy.


Table of Contents

Understanding PEO, EOR, and AOR
The Role and Benefits of a PEO
The Role and Benefits of an EOR
The Role and Benefits of an AOR
Making the Right Choice for Your Staffing Firm


Understanding PEO, EOR, and AOR

Let's begin by defining these key terms:

  • PEO (Professional Employer Organization): A PEO is a third-party company that provides limited HR services to businesses. It shares legal and financial risks associated with employment through a co-employment relationship.

  • EOR (Employer of Record): An EOR is a third-party company that becomes the legal employer of your contract workforce. It usually assumes more responsibility than a PEO for employment risks, liabilities, and HR-related tasks.

  • AOR (Agent of Record): An AOR is a third-party organization that works with independent contractors. It’s nearly identical to an EOR, but it’s just that the type of worker engaged is an independent contractor rather than a W2 employee.  Not all EOR’s will serve as an AOR. 

The Role and Benefits of a PEO


A Professional Employer Organization, or PEO, essentially provides access certain benefits and payroll functions for small organizations.  Most PEO’s provide an online portal that their clients an use to process payroll, provide and administer benefits, etc..  They also provide some basic HR support services and templates.  However, it's crucial to understand that a PEO enters a co-employment arrangement with your firm. This means that despite the partnership, your firm retains most legal responsibilities for your employees. PEOs generally necessitate that you possess a registered business entity in the locations where your employees are stationed.

Historically, there has been a measure of conflict between staffing firms and PEOs. This friction is primarily due to the legal complexity, insurance implications, and risk inherent in the PEO co-employing workers deployed at an end client site. To navigate these challenges, many staffing firms may choose to use to engage their internal workers either directly or through a PEO and engage an EOR for their contract workers.

It's worth noting that several PEOs may be unable to collaborate with staffing firms if the latter does not use an EOR for their contract workers. Additionally, PEOs rarely fund payroll, which means the financial responsibility ultimately lies with the client. For these reasons, PEOs generally cater to companies needing assistance with their permanent, internal employee requirements.

Benefits of Using a PEO

  • Risk Management: A PEO can help mitigate your staffing firm's legal and financial risks by sharing employment-related responsibilities.

  • HR Expertise: PEOs have a team of HR experts who can efficiently manage complex HR tasks.

  • Compliance Assurance: PEOs are well-versed in federal, state, and local employment laws, ensuring your compliance with these regulations.

  • Cost Savings on Benefits and Insurance: By pooling resources across multiple client companies, PEOs can negotiate better rates for benefits and insurance, potentially saving your firm money in the long run.

The Role and Benefits of an EOR


The term “employer of record” designates the legal entity responsible for an employee's employment status. In a traditional setting, a barista working at a coffee shop, for example, would have the coffee shop as their employer of record. However, within the staffing industry, the landscape becomes more intricate due to the involvement of multiple parties and the challenges of employing workers across diverse geographic locations.

As a staffing firm, when you engage an Employer of Record, you essentially appoint a company to assume full employer responsibilities for your worksite workers or contract placements. This decision entrusts the EOR with the legal obligation and direct responsibility for these workers. A competent EOR provider safeguards your interests by carrying critical insurances such as general liability, professional liability, and workers’ compensation insurance.

In addition, an EOR manages multiple pivotal aspects of employment, including payroll, taxes, hiring and termination, onboarding, and employee benefits. Some well-established EORs even offer payroll funding, thereby relieving the financial load from the staffing firm or the end client.

You can read more about Employers of Record in our Employer of Record 101: A Comprehensive Guide for Staffing Firms.

An important distinction to remember is that an EOR does not employ the internal team of a staffing firm if the staffing firm already has an entity in the USA. For instance, if a staffing firm has an internal team comprising recruiters, salespeople, and an executive cadre, the EOR will not assume employer responsibility for these employees. Their jurisdiction is confined to the contract placements who operate on the end client site.

In contrast to a Professional Employer Organization (PEO), an EOR does not necessitate that you have a registered business entity in the locations where your workers are based. This distinction endows the EOR model with a greater degree of flexibility, making it an ideal solution for staffing companies aiming to expand their global footprint.

Benefits of Using an EOR

  • Global Expansion: An EOR allows you to hire employees from anywhere in the world without needing to set up a legal entity in each location.

  • Risk Mitigation: As the legal employer, the EOR assumes all employment risks and liabilities, thereby protecting your staffing firm.

  • Full HR Coverage: An EOR can handle all HR-related tasks, including onboarding, payroll processing, tax compliance, and benefits administration.

  • Payroll Funding: Some EORs also provide payroll funding, enabling you to pay your employees on time without straining your cash flow.

The Role and Benefits of an AOR


The AOR ensures these contractors are aptly classified, oversees their timekeeping, and manages their payments among other associated tasks. This function is crucial in mitigating potential risks and legal complications that can emerge from misclassification of employees as independent contractors, which can lead to substantial penalties.

Drawing parallels with the Employer of Record (EOR) function, the AOR provider collaborates with staffing firms to manage independent contractors who prefer operating under their own Limited Liability Company (LLC) rather than being classified as traditional employees. The onus of proper worker classification falls on the AOR, including the responsibility of timekeeping and payment management. This role requires a deep understanding of the delicate demarcation between a W-2 employee and a 1099 worker, making it essential to correctly classify and manage these worker types. Failure to do so can result in significant misclassification penalties.

It's worth noting that many businesses that provide EOR services also offer AOR services, creating a symbiotic relationship between these two functions. This relationship allows for a comprehensive workforce management solution, encompassing both employees and independent contractors.

Benefits of Using an AOR

  • Compliance Assurance: The AOR ensures that independent contractors are correctly classified, helping your staffing firm avoid penalties for misclassification.

  • Time and Cost Savings: By handling timekeeping and payments for independent contractors, an AOR can save your staffing firm time and administrative costs. Some AOR’s will even take on responsibility for misclassification risks but this is rare.

  • Risk Mitigation: The AOR takes on the responsibility for complying with laws and regulations related to independent contractors, helping to protect your staffing firm.

Making the Right Choice for Your Staffing Firm

The choice between a PEO, EOR, and AOR depends on your staffing firm's specific needs and circumstances. Here are a few factors to consider:

  • Workforce Size: If your staffing firm is small or medium-sized, a PEO or EOR might be a good fit. If you primarily work with independent contractors, an AOR might be the best option.

  • Global Expansion: If you're planning to expand globally, an EOR can help you hire employees anywhere in the world without needing to set up a legal entity in each location.

  • Risk Tolerance: If you're comfortable taking on some legal responsibilities and risks, a PEO might be a suitable choice. If you prefer to outsource all employment-related risks and liabilities, an EOR or AOR might be a better fit.

  • Budget: Consider the costs associated with each option. While a PEO might have lower upfront costs, an EOR or AOR could offer long-term cost savings by providing payroll funding and handling all HR tasks.

Ultimately, the choice between a PEO, EOR, and AOR should align with your staffing firm's strategic goals and risk tolerance. By making the right choice, you can concentrate on growing your business, secure in the knowledge that your HR needs are being handled by experts. Remember, there's no one-size-fits-all solution. Your chosen partner should reflect your firm's unique circumstances, long-term goals, and risk tolerance.

At Agile Partnering, we provide Employer of Record and Agent of Record services, both with integrated payroll funding options. We are on a mission to help staffing firms unlock their full growth potential by providing these simplified back-office solutions. If you have any questions or need further clarification, please contact us.


This content does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client or other fiduciary relationship.  Please contact your own attorney for legal advice.  Links to third-party sites are provided for convenience only, and Agile Partnering is not responsible for their content.  For more detail, see here: