Seasonal hiring: How to be legal, ethical, and productive

By Vivian Wagner, special to Workplace Tribes.

Every holiday season, businesses hire seasonal workers to help with customer service, driving, packaging, shipping, accounting, and just about every job duty imaginable. Hiring seasonally lets employers temporarily meet increased demand, and fill in gaps in their workforce without requiring a long-term commitment.

According to a recent survey, seasonal hiring will be somewhat down this year, despite forecasts for relatively strong holiday sales. The data shows that 68% of retailers expect their holiday sales to increase this year, yet most plan to keep their seasonal hiring at the same level as last year, or decrease it slightly.

Nonetheless, thousands of seasonal employees will still be hired, and the fact that there might be fewer this year makes it all the more important to do it right.

a seasonal employee in a retail store

Hiring seasonal employees can be a tricky process.  To help you out, here are a few tips for finding and hiring this important part of your workforce:

1. Evaluate Your Needs

Any seasonal hiring plan must begin with assessing your needs. Look at last year’s sales and employment numbers, evaluate each department for specific requirements, and put together a plan based on this thorough analysis.

2. Look Within

Often, the best seasonal employees are those who already work for your company as part-timers. These people are already familiar with your business, and they’ve proven themselves to be reliable and flexible. Talk with these employees about their availability for seasonal employment, and keep them on a floater list for heavy sales periods.

3. Look Ahead

Many employers don’t start advertising for seasonal employees until November, but it makes sense to start in September or October, to give you time to put together a good team and make sure you get the best employees.

4. Advertise Widely and Creatively

There are job boards that are especially good for advertising for seasonal employees, such as and, so consider using these for your job postings. Regular online job boards can sometimes be helpful, as can local media and the career offices at regional colleges. That said, nothing substitutes for good new-fashioned recruiting through social media.

5. Follow the Laws

Make sure that you treat your seasonal employees fairly, following all applicable regional and national laws. In the United States, you can start by checking the Migrant and Seasonal Worker Protection Act (MSPA). From the perspective of the IRS, all tax withholding laws that apply to regular employees apply to seasonal employees.

Also put together an employment contract that clearly specifies the start and end date of employment, pay, hours, overtime policy, benefits, and any other information your seasonal employees need to know.

6. Pay Attention

Remember, if there’s a good fit, some of these seasonal employees might become permanent staff. The seasonal employment period can be a kind of extended job interview, letting employees learn the ropes and demonstrate their skills, and letting employers evaluate these employees while they’re on the job. Just remember that if you do hire a seasonal employee after the specified time period ends, you’ll need to draw up a new contract and specify the terms of the new employment relationship.

Seasonal employment can be a win-win situation for employers and employees, increasing a workforce at the busiest time of year, and letting employees earn extra money when they most need it.

With a little care and some planning, seasonal hiring can be a productive and valuable part of your company’s overall HR strategy.


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