Manager’s Guide To Hiring & Managing Seasonal Employees

Whether you’re a ski lodge or a beachfront souvenir shop, you’re looking for employees to help out in peak seasons. Cold or hot—customers will come at some point.

Seasonal employment is different from part-time employment. It doesn’t hinge on hours, but on the seasonal highs and lows of customer demand.

If you’re that ski lodge, you’re only open part of the year. If you’re a souvenir shop on the beach, you might be open year round but really don’t see the traffic until schools are out and the thermometer is rising. Maybe you’re a retail shop or a bakery, and you need extra help at the end of the year, when the holiday season takes over the calendar. Agricultural and construction work is also often seasonal.

With all of those possible scenarios, are all seasonal workers the same?

You can’t skip the seasonal question. Most retail, food, or customer-facing service businesses will have some kind of seasonality to them, a time when customer demand is noticeably higher than at other times of the year. Because of that, it’s important to understand how to hire and manage seasonal employees.

Seasonal employment fast FAQs

Let’s take a look at some of the most commonly asked questions, when it comes to seasonal employment. 

What is the difference between temporary, part-time and seasonal employees?

It’s important to understand the difference between temporary, part-time, and seasonal employees, because employee status impacts how employment law is applied.

The Fair Labor Standards Act is where a federal minimum wage is set, along with rules pertaining to overtime, records, and youth employment standards.

However, FLSA doesn’t define full or part-time employment. Some states define a part-time employee as someone who works less than 30-35 hours a week. In some cases, the business defines this. These employees are usually paid at an hourly rate, have to follow the same rules and expectations of the full-time workers in the business, are covered under OSHA’s safety policies, but don’t necessarily have employment benefits that a full-time worker might have.

Temp employees, whether hired through an agency or directly, are there to fill in vacant job openings, whether that’s in a full or part-time capacity. Most don’t receive benefits. Depending on the state, the situation, and how they were hired, some temp employees may (or may not) be eligible for various legal protections (e.g. FMLA).

Seasonal employees are less about job vacancies than businesses simply needing more help during a busy time. They’re usually hired part-time for the season.

Think of it like this: a seasonal worker is someone who works part-time for a set time each year, and is an addition to the regular workforce. A temp worker fills gaps in the standard workforce.

Who is considered a seasonal employee?

There are two ways to determine if someone is a seasonal employee:

  • Are you running a seasonal business?
  • Are you running a non-seasonal business, but bringing on extra employees to help with a busier-than-normal season of customer demand?

The FLSA has rules, regarding the employer, when it comes to defining whether or not they’re a seasonal business. A seasonal business doesn’t have to follow FLSA. 

According to the FLSA, a seasonal business, where all employees are seasonal employees, is defined as a company that can’t operate for more than seven months each year, or the average receipts for any six-month period selected didn’t exceed 33 1/3% of the average for the remaining six months. Think of ski lodges, summer amusement parks, snow removal companies, swimming pools, summer camps, and so on.

If you don’t fall into that category, then FLSA—and its minimum wage and overtime rules—applies to you, and all of your employees, including your seasonal workers.

Youth ages 14-15 can be employed during non-school hours for non-hazardous jobs, within hour limits, and make great seasonal employees. Youth ages 16-17 don’t have any hour limits, but there are still types of work they can’t do. There are specific legal limitations for what workers of this age group can and can’t do, so it’s worth looking these up.

One more thing: different aspects of law affecting employees have different definitions. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) defines a seasonal employee as someone who is hired for a position that is generally six months or less a year, during the same time each year (e.g. summer or winter). The IRS has their own rules for seasonal employees and employer requirements, and so on.

How many hours can seasonal employees work?

If you have a seasonal business, the FLSA’s rules won’t apply when it comes to hours and overtime. If you are not a seasonal business, your seasonal workers will generally be treated the same as your full or part-time workers.

Keep in mind, though, that the hours an employee works can trigger other legal employment issues. For example, if you’re not a seasonal business and you employ at least 50 full-time employees (who work at least 30 hours a week), you’re an Applicable Large Employer (ALE). The ACA might apply to you.

What legal requirements are there for hiring seasonal workers?

When it comes to hiring seasonal workers for a business that isn’t classified as a seasonal business, there are a few employment and tax laws to keep in mind:

  • While the FLSA doesn’t define full or part-time, the hours your seasonal employees work may trigger ACA requirements depending on the classification of your employer.
  • Employers are still required to withhold taxes for federal unemployment, Social Security, Medicare, and so on, even for seasonal employees.
  • Employers have to follow the minimum wage requirements. Most states have a higher rate than the federal government, and that hire wage must be used.
  • Employees are entitled to protection under all OSHA rules, worker’s comp, and other FLSA specifics.
  • Know whether your state law requires that seasonal workers qualify for unemployment or not.

In other words, for non-seasonal businesses looking to take on seasonal workers for a busy time, there isn’t much difference when it comes to the legal requirements than you’d follow if you hired a part or full-time employee.

How to hire seasonal employees

In a labor shortage, hiring regular employees is tough. How do you go about hiring seasonal employees?

The first step to effectively managing a seasonal workforce is to know when your busy season is. Your busy season isn’t a cookie-cutter copy of others in the same industry. You need to look at historical data to find out precisely when customer demand increases and when it decreases.

From there, build your budget. That means you’re thinking seasonally when you’re building your yearly budget, whether you’re in the busy season then or not. You’ll have to factor in costs from additional payroll, benefits, healthcare (if applicable), and any bonuses or perks. 

Now you’re actually ready to source and hire.

This is all about attracting the right employee, and it’s wise to start recruiting early. If your season starts in two weeks, it’s a bit late to start looking because you haven’t left room for training time.

You have to source where the kind of people you’re looking for will be. If you’re trying to attract high school workers, for example, contact the schools and see if they have any job boards or listings you could add to. Use social media platforms they’re on and post job ads that are creative and fun.

 If you’ve had people work for you seasonally during the past, see if they’re interested again. That saves on training as well as gives you a more experienced employee. Offering competitive wages and flexible hours (e.g. work around school schedule), even for seasonal work, helps in attracting employees.

Since many seasonal workers are high school or college students, create an employee referral program that provides a real incentive to employees who get friends to come and work. Because the competition for workers is so fierce these days, you might want to showcase your workplace so that when seasonal workers compare the job you’re offering to others, you stand out because of pay, fun, benefits, or some other reason.

Just because they’re seasonal employees doesn’t mean they don’t want growth opportunities. By offering the opportunity to work full-time eventually, or other training or development options, you can attract highly motivated seasonal workers.

How to effectively train and manage seasonal employees

For the most part, you’ll treat all employees the same. But there are some key things to remember when training seasonal employees.

Training should be focused.

Training employees should always be intentional and focused, but it’s even more the case with seasonal employees.

A seasonal employee doesn’t have to know absolutely everything there is to know about your workplace. They only need to know what they need to do their job. In other words, how you train a full-time, year-round employee is different from a seasonal worker.

What do they specifically need to know to do the work you need? Train them for that. Have regular staff help them learn as they go.

And make sure your regular employees know that they aren’t trained to do everything; year-round employees will need to cover the areas seasonal employees aren’t trained in without negative pushback.

Treat them like all the other employees.

When it comes to managing your seasonal employees, you should treat them the same as your other employees. 

They get rewarded for great work. They are recognized as full team members. The same quality expectations are placed on them.

It’s a huge mistake to treat seasonal employees as “extras” and make them feel disposable. Remember, it’s to your benefit that they’d want to come back and work for you the next season, so treat them accordingly. That might mean keeping in touch with them, even when the season is over. 

Make sure they feel like they’re still a part of the team, even in the off season, a team they can come back to next year.

Use scheduling tools that allow for seasonal workers.

It can be tricky scheduling seasonal workers with your regular workers. Using a scheduling tool like When I Work makes it easy to integrate that seasonal workforce right into your regular workforce without having to adjust how you manage your schedule.

By connecting your schedule with payroll and internal communication with your team, seasonal workers are scheduled, managed, and treated the same as regular workers. Plus, with the data you get from an integrated system, you can easily scale and adjust your schedule as demand changes. Flexibility like that is necessary for a seasonal business that’s hyper-focused on coverage that matches customer demand.

It seems easy enough. 

You identify a peak season and you bring on a few workers to help out. Problem solved. When demand goes away, so do the extra workers.

But, with all of the tax and employment laws, rules, and regulations, plus the challenge of sourcing workers who don’t mind helping out for a while and then being let go when the season is over, hiring and managing seasonal workers is more complicated that it first seems.

The two main takeaways are simple: talk to your accountant and legal representation to make sure your seasonal approach is correctly handled. Then, find the best employees you can and begin thinking of them as part of your team, even if they’re only there for a few months.

Start well, and you’ll have a good thing going with no worries about seasonal highs and lows.