It is absolutely the trend to use non-full-time workers throughout America. Small businesses are hiring temps, outsource partners, etc. long before they will turn that work into full-time employees. In the labor pool they call this gigs. People are having trouble finding full time jobs so they work part-time for several employers and "gig" themselves a living.
For small businesses using part-time and temporary employment is often the right thing to do. However, many small businesses are using part-time workers (without being formal employees) for more challenging and sensitive areas of their businesses than they have in the past. There is nothing wrong with this. You need a resource and you find a good person willing to work on a consulting or contract basis.
These good workers have access to your client base, your manufacturing floors, your warehousing, your accounting systems and much more. These workers have access to everything your full-time employees do in many instances BUT in many cases they do have the confidentiality and non-compete restrictions that your regular employees do. This varies state-by-state, but if you are freely handing over your business information to someone they often have very limited legal constraints in what they can do with it.
If your business has low barriers to entry, you may be training your next local competitor - and even handing him his first customers. If you work in a knowledge industry or you have more efficient processes than your next closest competitor you could be handing over vital information that is shuttled over to your competitors.
You need to formalize your relationship with all non-direct workers you use. A great standard document is an Independent Contractor Agreement. In this agreement you establish some critical items and it's a great "blanket" contract:
- The worker is not a direct employee of the company (you don't want them claiming by defacto they are)
- The worker agrees to keep all your information confidential
- The worker agrees to not pursue your customers for themselves (usually with a time limit)
- The worker agrees to not pursue hiring your direct employees (usually with a tme limit)
- It establishes a standard of law (i.e. which state's law you'll use in dispute)
- It will establish how a dispute is resolved (arbitration of law suit)
- It will establish a venue for dispute rsolution, this will almost always be where your headquarters is located
Make sure to consult with an attorney familiar with your state's laws concerning contractor agreements but in general you should ask any worker that is not a direct employee to sign this kind of agreement and please do yourself a favor and actually keep them somewhere you can find them years down the road. If someone won't sign this document DON'T HIRE THEM. There is nothing out of the ordinary in requiring this contract and I would be wondering why they would not sign. Also, don't make one off or special contracts. Make sure you have a fair document and simple state, "this is a standard agreement that we request everyone sign".
Here is an example agreement I've used for years. You should however have your attorney review and modify or have them create a new one appropriate for your state and your industry.