Do Your Seasonal Employees Qualify for Unemployment?


As CNN recently pointed out, “Federal law gives each state the option to decide whether or not to allow seasonal workers to take benefits.  Now strapped for funds, many states are stripping some workers of their eligibility.”  In fact, 15 states already have legislation on the books that eliminates or at least restricts the amount of benefits that seasonal workers are allowed to access.

For example, New Jersey recently passed a law that requires specific classification for certain seasonal jobs in order to qualify for seasonal unemployment.  That means that if the job type isn’t classified within those limited categories, that employees won’t be able to collect unemployment benefits—even if they’re laid off for extended periods of time between seasons.  Needless to say, that action incited quite a bit of reaction from workers and worker’s rights organizations.

The main complaints against such regulations are that they will unnecessarily hurt seasonal employees and may even discourage people from applying for these seasonal jobs in the first place.

Whether or not your seasonal employees are covered under unemployment benefits is a matter decided by your individual state.  Therefore, it’s essential that you contact your states department of labor in order to correctly understand your obligations as an employer and the benefits your current and future employee will be entitled to.

You can find a list of all 50 state departments of labor (with phone numbers and web URLS) on the U.S. Department of Labor’s website.

What You Can Do to Keep Your Employees

So, with the noose tightening around seasonal unemployment across the United States, what can you do to help your seasonal employees cope with a potential loss of income during their downtime?

Keep Them On Part-Time

While most seasonal employment opportunities dry up once the season comes to a close, some seasonal businesses still operate at reduced capacity.  If your business is one of these and you want to keep your seasonal employees coming back from year to year, consider offering them part-time opportunities during the off-season.

State regulations dictate how much unemployment an individual can collect and for how long.  Usually, this amount is a small fraction of what the individual was making while fully employed.  However, this can be a good thing, as most long-term seasonal employees have already adjusted to the “feast or famine” fluctuations in their yearly income.

Offering a part-time opportunity that pays a similar or even smaller amount may be enough to help your seasonal employees keep their heads above water during the leaner months.

Help Them Find Off-Season Work

If your business simply can’t keep employees on throughout the year in any capacity, helping these same individuals line up off-season work will go a long way toward keeping them happy and coming back next year.  The extent to which you engage in this activity is completely up to you but could span the gap between simply offering a great letter of recommendation to actively tracking down openings you think your workers would be well-suited for.

If you choose to help your employees find work during the off-season, it may be a good idea to begin your search for complimentary businesses as soon as possible.  By having a list at the ready, long before it comes time to close down your operations, you can help ease your employee’s transition between seasons.

Offer More Than Competitive Wages

Another option is to help your excellent employees pad their off-season nest eggs.  By offering more-than-competitive compensation to individuals that you value highly and that provide an excellent service to you and your business during the working season, you can ensure that these employees have something to fall back on between seasons.  It’s a good idea as well to educate these select employees about this additional benefit and suggest they take to the time to plan financially for the immediate future.

Provide Financial Training

Your employees may or may not currently have adequate financial skills to help them cope with the loss of income for several months out of the year.  Chances are, even your “seasoned” seasonal workers can benefit from a little education on how to set aside funds for the leaner months and how to make that money stretch as far as possible.

That’s why it may be a good idea to hire a financial trainer/advisor or even just host a seminar once or twice a season in order to educate your employees about the risks and benefits of seasonal employment.  If your organization isn’t large enough to warrant hosting such a session yourself, you may be able to find such educational services through local CPAs or even community college outreach programs.

Offer Housing Benefits

Some seasonal businesses (such as restaurants and hoteliers) may already offer seasonal employees housing either at no cost or a low cost as a condition of their work agreement.  However, as an added perk, you can consider offering this same benefit to seasonal employees during the off-season as well.

Of course, you won’t want to offer housing for free during the months you’re not getting anything in return.  But by adjusting rental rates according to the season, you may find that you can keep employees much longer and avoid having to hire a new crop every year.

Create an Excellent Work Experience

By offering your employees an excellent work experience throughout the season, you can ensure that they’ll come back next year—no matter what they endure during the off-season.  Employees will develop a sense of loyalty to employers who treat them well, offer chances for advancement, encourage personal growth, and offer competitive compensation and responsive scheduling.  This loyalty will carry through the off months, as employees know that they’re not likely to find a better job anywhere else.

Value Your Employees Above (Pretty Much) All Else

Your employees really are the backbone of your business.  They are, in effect, its public face, its inner workings, and its profit engine.  Putting your employees’ needs ahead of pretty much anything else (except for your bottom line and your customer satisfaction) is a good way to cultivate a crew of hardworking, reliable, and resourceful employees that will keep your seasonal business up and running year after year.