It’s the most wonderful time of year – retailers dashing to capture sales driven by holiday shopping. As a result of this spending frenzy, employers need to plan carefully for the season. For many businesses, this involves a rapid surge in the hiring of seasonal employees. Unfortunately, this can come with many avoidable problems for the unwary employer.
1. Set Expectations Up Front
With the rush to staff registers with holiday workers, many employers make the simple mistake of failing to inform new hires that their employment is limited to the season. This disparity in expectations can result in a revenge claim. Although most employees are hired “at-will,” meaning they can be let go for any legal reason, it’s still a good practice to set proper expectations at hire. The best way to do this is by informing seasonal employees in writing that their position is “at-will,” temporary and likely to end on a specific date unless informed otherwise.
2. Hidden Costs of Seasonal Hiring
A flurry of seasonal hires and subsequent fires can lead to unemployment claims. While this impact varies slightly by state, unemployment benefits in Ohio can generally be given to temporary or seasonal workers who meet Ohio’s eligibility rules. Specifically, an unemployed seasonal worker is entitled to unemployment benefits if, at the time of unemployment, the worker worked at least 20 weeks for some employer and received an average weekly wage of at least $247. Employers should weigh these potential costs to their unemployment tax contributions when evaluating benefits of hiring seasonal employees.
3. Usual Practices Get Pushed Aside
In the hiring rush, employers sometimes fail to conduct typical on-boarding procedures, such as employment policy training, background checks or post-offer drug testing. This can be a costly mistake. No employer wants to end the holiday season facing a stack of discrimination charges filed with the EEOC, especially claims that could have been prevented. A well-written employee handbook can limit liability for the employer, set clear expectations for workplace conduct and prevent problems from getting out of hand with clear complaint procedures.
4. Incomplete Information About Hires
Some employers are tempted to skip their usual pre-employment background checks. Big mistake. Although many retailers see their biggest sales between October and January, these months also account for half of all annual theft. According to the latest Global Retail Theft Barometer, employee theft in the U.S. outranks shoplifting as the number-one reason for missing inventory. Conducting background checks for seasonal employees can help ensure employers aren’t giving thieves the keys to the store.
Employers should also not skimp on new-hire drug testing for seasonal workers. Unfortunately, employers are seeing a surge in the number of employees testing positive for drug abuse. Workplace drug use poses significant costs to employers, typically in the form of productivity loss, tardiness, absenteeism, workplace accidents and even theft. Some employers have had such difficulty in finding qualified employees who can pass a drug test that they’ve dropped testing altogether to fill positions. This isn’t a good approach. According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use & Health, employees in organizations without a drug testing program have a 30-40% higher self-report of past-month drug use. Although an employer may fill positions without testing, it could actually encourage more drug use and workplace problems.
Although seasonal employees may be a key part of the holiday workforce for many employers, they do pose potential problems for the unwary employer. The good news is these problems are generally avoidable when employers stick to their usual hiring practices.
Samuel Lillard is of counsel at the Columbus office of Fisher Phillips, a national management-side labor and employment law firm.