Shoppers like to complain that holiday decorations appear earlier and earlier. Retailers have their own seasonal lament: There’s no one to hire for the oncoming rush of those shoppers.
With unemployment at near-record lows, retailers are pulling out all the stops to ensure they have enough workers come December. Companies are bumping up pay and even loosening disciplinary and hiring policies.
About that last one: Resist the temptation, says Ed Harold of Fisher Phillips, a nationwide labor and employment law firm that represents employers. “It’s tempting given the tight job market and the time crunch you might be under, but stick to the book,” says Harold. “It only takes one misstep for things to go wrong terribly.”
Tips for hiring
Harold gives HFA members four actions to avoid common legal pitfalls when hiring seasonal workers:
Don’t cut corners. Given the tight job market, competition is thick for the best talent. Harold says retailers should have already started the search for temporary employees. “If you haven’t made your holiday hires by now or within the next week, you’re not going to be very happy with who you get,” he says.
Translation: You may have to settle. That means it’s more important than ever to follow your hiring processes, which should include criminal background checks and drug testing on seasonal employees just like long-term employees.
Keep pushing paper. Even seasonal employees must fill out an I-9 form, the document verifying the identity of new hires to ensure they are authorized to work in the United States. And in most cases, seasonal hires are not immune to paying taxes. It’s the retailer’s job to withhold taxes.
“Any ordinary paperwork with a regular employee needs to be done with a seasonal employee, too,” says Harold.
Equal rights. By now, you should be catching on: What’s good for the permanent employee is good for the seasonal employee. That includes any store policy and procedure training (along with post-training papers to sign) and sexual harassment training. Harold says seasonal employees have a higher rate of sexual harassment complaints than permanent employees because the latter don’t always view them as equals.
Clarify expectations. It’s not enough to tell seasonal employees they’ll be coming on board on a temporary basis, says Harold. Put it in writing. Retailers need to specify the limited duration in writing and verify that workers understand they are being hired for a limited duration and as “at-will” employees – meaning you have a legal right to terminate any employee, with or without cause, at any time.
“Play it safe and don’t give an exact date of when they will no longer be needed,” says Harold. “It’s not a bad idea to give them a window of time. Just be sure they’ve signed the paper and acknowledged their status.”