Balancing Benefits and Risks With Seasonal Employees

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on December 14, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

When the holiday season rolls around, America's employment rolls swell. Delivery and retail companies are expected to add over 755,000 new jobs in the holiday months. Amazon alone will hire 100,000 seasonal employees.

Those seasonal workers can be a boon for employers, providing quick, temporary labor during the busiest part of the year. But seasonal work also brings with it some major risks that corporate counsel should be aware of and guard against.

As Always, It's at Will

You want to avoid claims that a seasonal employee was terminated in violation of an implied employment contract, so avoid any references to a term of employment. Tell hiring managers not to describe jobs as lasting "through December" or to say that someone will be kept on "through the holidays." And, as always, have employees sign an acknowledgment that they are working at will.

Unemployment Compensation

Temporary and seasonal workers may be able to get unemployment benefits when their position ends. Depending on the laws of your state, workers brought on for the holiday rush could make a successful claim for unemployment insurance when laid off.

Hiring and Training

A short term employee can still cause a lot of damage, so seasonal hiring is no reason to skip background checks and training. Your hiring processes should be as robust during the holiday rush as any other time of the year, to help you avoid claims of negligent hiring or training.

Overtime and Holiday Time

With more employees comes more risk of wage and hour complaints. You'll want to make sure you are accurately tracking employee hours and paying overtime when necessary. Extra pay for working on weekends or holidays isn't required by the Fair Labor Standards Act or most state laws, but certain government contract workers are required to get holiday pay, so make sure you know what rules apply to your employees in the jurisdictions they work. Taking time to explain these rules to your employees can also help clear up misunderstandings and avoid complaints.

Suddenly, You're a Large Employer

Hiring rushes can turn small employers into large ones, even if it's just for a limited time. For example, if your holiday hiring means that the company will have 50 or more full-time equivalent employees, the large employer requirements of the Affordable Care Act could apply to you, effecting your coverage, reporting, and tax requirements.

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