With the crucial Christmas trading period just around the corner, many employers are preparing for their annual influx of seasonal staff.
In particular, businesses within the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors rely heavily on temporary staff to meet customer demand. However, managing a seasonal workforce can be challenging, from recruitment through to termination. So, what steps can employers take to ensure that the festive season runs as smoothly as possible?
Employers should allow sufficient time to ensure that appropriate recruitment processes can be followed. Whilst these may be streamlined versions of their 'usual' procedures, it is still important to ensure that staff are suitable, can demonstrate satisfactory references and have the right to work in the UK. Managers who aren't ordinarily responsible for recruitment should be given training, including guidance about conducting interviews and avoiding discriminatory behaviour.
Most seasonal staff are recruited directly as employees for the length of time they are engaged. However, employers with a flexible need for staffing may also rely on casual workers. These employers need to be aware that casual workers are entitled to many of the same legal protections as permanent employees, including being paid the national minimum wage, breaks and holidays under working time legislation and protection against unlawful discrimination.
Employers who source staff via employment agencies need to ensure that they comply with the provisions of the Agency Workers Regulations 2010 (AWR). The AWR provide that agency workers must be able to access collective facilities (such as staff canteens) and have access to information about job vacancies from the first day of their assignment. After completion of a 12 week qualifying period, agency workers are entitled to the same basic working and employment conditions as if they had been recruited directly, including conditions in respect of pay, working time and holidays.
Whilst employers will inevitably be under pressure during the festive period, time spent properly training seasonal staff can be invaluable. Structured training programmes provide an early opportunity for employers to spot performance or disciplinary issues, as well as ensuring that staff are working consistently. The training process is also a useful way to introduce policies and procedures that staff will be expected to comply with in the workplace, such as health and safety and equal opportunities. All training should be documented and appropriate records held, in case a paper trail is needed as evidence at a later date.
Seasonal staff should have a clear route for raising any issues and these should be addressed promptly, in order to avoid the risk of claims. Employers should treat all staff fairly (for example, in relation to the allocation of shifts or days off) in order to guard against complaints of unfair treatment or discrimination. Staff wellbeing should be a priority and employers should look out for and address any obvious red-flags, such as persistent absence or disability issues.
Employers should be clear from the outset about the length of engagement that seasonal workers should expect, whilst allowing for some flexibility. Fixed term contracts with optional notice periods of one week on each side are common. Conduct or performance issues should be dealt with promptly, although employers should consider all potential risks (for example, discrimination claims) before dismissing staff early. If employers are worried about employees leaving early, bonuses or other incentive rewards can be useful tools. Finally, employers who wish to offer permanent employment to seasonal staff should ensure that updated contracts of employment are provided and that all employees are treated consistently once the festive season is over.
This document is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given.