Holiday Hiring: ’Tis the Season to Be Careful

Many companies need to take on extra help around the holidays, retail stores more so than most. Poor hiring decisions this holiday season could have repercussions for employers and turn a profitable season into a costly discrimination lawsuit. Well-planned hiring practices that comply with federal, state and local employment laws can help ensure that seasonal employees are well-suited for the job, and that the company is in a position to defend any possible claims. Here are five tips to ensure success and keep the peace in your workplace.

Carefully review application materials. Avoid becoming an employer who during litigation concludes, “If I had only reviewed the application more carefully.” Managers are very likely to skip this step when they are desperately in need of bodies. Train your managers to identify red flags on applications, such as significant gaps in employment history. Responses to questions about why the employee left prior jobs and any remaining questions about their work history may tell a story. A prudent employer should spend time reviewing these materials.

Listen to the applicant. Applicants for seasonal employment need to be interviewed just as thoroughly as ordinary, full-time applicants. Ask prospects to clarify any unclear information on their applications, which allows you to test applicants’ truthfulness and gain more insight into their personality, character and motivation. The goal of the interview is to gather details about the person’s employment history by listening, not to sell the applicant on the job. And, of course, remember not to ask unlawful questions about age, ancestry, religion or other protected categories.

Use an offer letter. Having offer letters for seasonal employees can be more important than with regular employees because the expectations are different. Strangely, it is not unknown for seasonal employees to file an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claim accusing employers of discrimination when their job ends even though it was expected to end. The use of a short, customized letter can help defend these claims because the applicant’s signature verifies the candidate’s understanding of the terms of employment and the limited maximum duration of the job. Other claims that can be fended off with offer letters include that the employer promised one rate of pay but paid a lower rate; that an employee was entitled to a minimum number of hours; and that the employer guaranteed the employee a specific term of employment.


Don’t skip orientation. Many managers may believe that seasonal employees do not need to go through the entire orientation process. But failing to do this can result in a host of issues. Not having temporary employees review and acknowledge anti-discrimination and harassment policies can eliminate a company’s defense to a claim. In addition, failing to fill out mandatory forms such as the I-9 form can lead to penalties and fines. If ordinary employment agreements, such as confidentiality agreements, are not executed in a timely manner, an employer can find itself with little recourse against a seasonal employee’s misconduct.

Be sure that seasonal employees are properly classified and that all federal and state wage-and-hour laws are followed during the holiday season. Make certain that you provide all required breaks, especially to minors, and that overtime is accurately recorded and paid.

Check your benefits policies. Review your benefits policies to determine if seasonal employees are included. Failure to provide required benefits can lead to expensive consequences.

These suggestions are just a few actions employers should consider in preparing for what already promises to be a busy and stressful season. Implementing this prep work in advance can help minimize unnecessary “to-dos” this holiday season, and avoid a potential holiday “hangover” for employers hiring seasonal staff.


Ed Harold

Ed Harold
Ed Harold is the regional managing partner in the Fisher Phillips New Orleans office and chair of the firm's Retail Industry Practice Group. His practice is primarily devoted to assisting employers in managing employee attendance and leave issues.

Ed Harold

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