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Understanding Seasonal Employment: Top 7 Considerations Before Hiring

by Karyn H. Rhodes | SHRM-SCP, SPHR on Apr 18, 2023 11:35:11 AM

If you operate a seasonal business, then you know your staffing needs can be inconsistent throughout the year. One way to address this issue is to offer seasonal employment to ensure you’re adequately staffed when you need it most. But if you’re not familiar with managing seasonal employees, there’s a lot to consider. What should you know before you hire these workers? Let’s find out.

In this article, we’ll share the top 7 things to think about with seasonal employment, including hiring, benefits, wage and pay issues, classification of these workers, and more. After reading this, you’ll know how to address the most common issues when it comes to this type of temporary work so you can stay compliant with seasonal employment laws when bringing on additional staff to get you through your busiest season.

What is seasonal employment?

Seasonal employment involves recruiting, hiring, and managing staff for a certain period of time throughout the year to ensure an organization has enough workers to avoid labor shortages when business is at its busiest. These temporary, short-term jobs may be seasonal based on geography or the time of year. Typically, a seasonal job lasts about three months, although the length can vary depending on the season you’re hiring for.

7 Things to Consider Before Offering Seasonal Employment

While seasonal employees can be critical to providing much-needed extra help, here are 7 things to take into consideration before bringing on these workers.

1. Hiring Interns

If you're planning to use interns to help with seasonal work, it’s important to understand the Department of Labor (DOL) rules that determine whether an intern must get paid. The current test to decide if interns of for-profit companies count as employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has seven factors, no one of which is determinative.

  • The extent to which the intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation. Any promise of compensation, expressed or implied, suggests that the intern is an employee—and vice versa.
  • The extent to which the internship provides training that would be similar to that which would be given in an educational environment, including the clinical and other hands-on training provided by educational institutions.
  • The extent to which the internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program by integrated coursework or the receipt of academic credit.
  • The extent to which the internship accommodates the intern’s academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar.
  • The extent to which the internship’s duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning.
  • The extent to which the intern’s work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern.
  • The extent to which the intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the conclusion of the internship.

If the analysis reveals that they’re actually an employee, then they’re entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay, which we’ll discuss in a bit.

2. Correctly Classifying Seasonal Employees

Just like your regular employees, you’ll want to ensure you classify seasonal workers correctly. Most of these staff members will be considered non-exempt versus exempt workers. This means that they’re eligible for federal minimum wage and overtime pay protections under the FLSA and may be protected by state wage and hour laws as well. It’s important to note that some seasonal staff are exempt from minimum wage and overtime rules, which we’ll address later. 

While it can be challenging to determine the right classification, the two factors to consider are:

  • Salary: Employees classified as exempt must be paid on a salary basis at generally not less than $684 a week
  • Duties: Employees who perform certain duties are exempt, including: executive, administrative, professional, computer, and outside sales.

It’s also important to ensure you classify your seasonal workers as employees and not independent contractors if you exercise control over the worker and how they perform the work.

3. Offering Seasonal Employment to Youth Workers

Many students look for summer jobs, and you’re allowed to hire children even as young as age 14. But you’ll want to make sure you’re following the Department of Labor rules to keep these workers safe. Specifically:

  • 14 and 15-year-olds: If you’re hiring 14 or 15-year-olds, they can only work for limited periods of time in non-manufacturing and non-hazardous jobs. There is a list of permitted occupations for these workers.
  • 16 and 17-year-olds: These teens may be employed for unlimited hours in any job other than those declared hazardous. The restricted occupations can be found here.

It’s important to pay attention to these employment provisions or you risk a civil monetary penalty of up to $11,000 for each minor employed in violation.

4. Health Benefits for Seasonal Workers

Most employers don’t offer group insurance benefits to seasonal employees. However, if you have 50 or more full-time employees, you have to be aware of the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate.

If you use the monthly measurement to determine full-time employees, you’d need to offer coverage to all workers who work at least 30 hours per week, including those who only work for you on a seasonal basis. However, if you use the look-back method, you may not need to treat seasonal staff as full time during the initial measurement period and may exclude them from health insurance.

While the law offers flexibility for businesses that rely on a seasonal workforce part of the year, you’ll want to make sure you understand the rules to determine whether to extend health benefits to these workers. 

5. Hiring Seasonal Employees With  Temporary Work Visas

One way many businesses combat the shortage of seasonal employees is by relying on foreign workers who hold either a J-1 foreign student visa or H-2B visa. 

The J-1 Summer Work Travel program is offered through the Department of State. It is specifically for students with at least a semester of post-secondary academic study at an institution outside of the US who are coming here to teach, study, conduct research, demonstrate special skills, or receive training in an approved program. If you’re looking to hire college students or recent grads for roles such as camp counselors, research assistants, or trainees, this program can be a good option. 

The H-2B nonimmigrant program is a little more general and allows you to temporarily hire nonimmigrants to perform nonagricultural labor or services in the US regardless of their student status. These workers commonly help fill seasonal employment gaps in positions like landscaping, grounds maintenance, restaurant/hospitality, and construction, among others. If you’re interested in this program, you’ll need to file an Application for Temporary Employment Certification with the DOL and be granted registration before you can start recruiting. In addition, you’ll need to comply with the program’s many requirements. For example, you must pay a wage that equals or exceeds the highest prevailing wage or applicable local, state, or federal minimum wage for the occupation in the area.

6. Minimum Wage and Overtime Pay

Since most seasonal workers are nonexempt, they’ll be entitled to minimum wage and overtime protections. That means, when you decide to offer seasonal employment, you’ll need to pay your temporary workers the federal minimum wage – or a higher rate if your state requires it. Additionally, any hours worked over 40 in one week must be paid at one and a half times their regular wage rate. 

However, there are some seasonal businesses whose workers are considered exempt from these rules. To qualify, yours must be an amusement or recreational establishment that either:

  • Operates less than 7 months a year
  • Has average receipts for any six months of the preceding calendar year of not more than 33 1/3% of your average receipts for the other 6 months of the year 

7. Time-off Requests and Coverage

You’ll likely get many requests for time off over the summer – even from seasonal workers. While it’s understandable employees will want to take vacation days or need sick time, it’s important to make sure you remain adequately staffed so advance notice is critical. Be sure your employee handbook clearly communicates the procedure for asking for time off. To help manage requests, you may want to consider a time and attendance system that automatically calculates accruals based on your policy and allows employees to submit requests online.

And don’t forget to consider protected leave like state-mandated sick leave, which applies for seasonal and part-time workers as well as full-time employees.

How to Best Recruit and Hire Seasonal Employees

While seasonal employees may only work for your business for a short time, that doesn’t mean it is any easier to hire these workers, especially in today’s tight labor market. Be sure to start your recruiting efforts early since many seasonal workers submit many applications to find the right job. When targeting your ads and postings, focus on groups of employees who may be particularly interested in summer work like students home on break, retirees, or independent contractors who may be looking to make some extra money. Job sites, social media, and recruiting events can all be ways to find potential seasonal employees but it’s a good idea to encourage employee referrals as well.  

Once you find the right candidates to join your team, you’ll need to get them up and running. It’s crucial to get your seasonal employees started on the right foot, just as you would any other staff member. The best way to do this is to learn how to create and implement an employee onboarding process that works for your organization. For help navigating everything that comes with offering seasonal employment, visit our dedicated HR page to learn what type of assistance Complete Payroll Solutions offers.


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