Condensed Handbooks, Videos Can Help Train Seasonal Employees, Their Managers

By Allen Smith, J.D. Nov 10, 2016
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​Seasonal employees need training despite their short employment, particularly on harassment and safety issues, legal experts say. Their managers need training, as well, to ensure compliance, especially under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Seasonal employee training might be in slimmed-down handbooks, online or in video training. The important thing is that it be done and that there is written acknowledgment from the employees that they received the training.

FLSA

"The most important compliance consideration is the FLSA," said Steven Whitehead, an attorney with Taylor English in Atlanta.

Andrew Sherrod, an attorney with Hirschler Fleischer in Richmond, Va., cautioned, "One of the most commonly violated laws with seasonal employees is the FLSA. Most seasonal workers will be nonexempt, so it is important to track their hours and make sure they are being paid for overtime if they work over 40 hours per week."

"Overtime violations are common" with seasonal employees, "as many employers believe they can call them 'spot' workers or independent contractors and avoid paying minimum wage and overtime," noted Maribeth Meluch, an attorney with Isaac Wiles in Columbus, Ohio.

"Employers should apply the same wage and hour rules to seasonal workers as they do for full-time workers," Whitehead said. In addition, while workers may be seasonal, classifying them as independent contractors rather than employees could create worker misclassification liability, he warned.

Harassment Training

"Providing information to the seasonal employees about who to contact if they believe they have been harassed, or have other employment-related issues to report, is perhaps one of the most critical things an employer needs to do, and it can be accomplished in a number of ways," Whitehead noted.

This information can be provided:

  • Verbally when the employee starts.
  • In a policy provided to seasonal workers when their jobs begin.
  • As part of a slimmed-down handbook given to the employees.
  • In a document indicating that their employment is intended to be seasonal.

"A nonharassment or nondiscrimination policy should always provide the person, if not by name, at least by title, to whom such complaints should be made as well as an alternate person or persons in case the primary person is either not receptive or the perpetrator," Meluch recommended.

Too often employers fail to train seasonal employees on safety and prevention of workplace harassment and violence, said Reggie Belcher, an attorney with Turner Padget in Columbia, S.C.

Other Compliance Issues

Other issues that often arise with seasonal employees:

  • Discrimination may occur, including discrimination based on disability or, if denied time off for religious observances, religion, Whitehead said.
  • A failure to complete seasonal employees' Forms I-9 might lead to the employment of unauthorized workers, Sherrod said.
  • Employers also must count seasonal employees who work more than 120 days per year when determining whether the Affordable Care Act's employer mandate applies, Belcher pointed out. (The Affordable Care Act applies only to employers with 50 or more full-time employees.)
  • A failure to conduct thorough background checks on seasonal employees is common, he cautioned.

A conference call or a short meeting to remind managers of their legal obligations can't hurt, Whitehead noted.

Agreement and Handbooks

"There should be a document presented and signed by the employee at the beginning of employment explaining that the position is temporary, [that it] has an end date but that the employee is still 'at will,' " Whitehead said. This agreement can help employers avoid misunderstandings about the anticipated duration of employment and prevent claims for unemployment benefits when the employment ends, he added, although claims may have to be paid if filed.

 [SHRM members-only HR Q&A: Benefits: Unemployment: In California, are seasonal employees entitled to unemployment compensation at the end of their assignment?]

A slimmed-down handbook should contain only policies relevant to a seasonal worker's employment. "For example, a seasonal worker is unlikely to accrue the threshold hours for federal Family and Medical Leave Act coverage and may not need to know the company's policy on that subject," he noted.

Seasonal employees should be provided with an opportunity to read the employer's policies on paid time and have an opportunity to meet with HR and ask questions, Meluch said.

"The employer should require each new hire to sign a form, acknowledging that the new seasonal hire received, read and understood the employer's rules, policies and procedures," Belcher noted.

Video Training

"One creative and cost-efficient way to ensure that the appropriate policies are effectively communicated to the employees is to provide training sessions by pre-recorded video," Sherrod said.

"Employees can participate by logging onto a company website to watch the training video. Or the HR department can host viewings of the video for individuals or groups during the onboarding process," he noted. "Employees should be required to certify in writing that they have completed the video training."

Web-based training is another option, Whitehead said. "Policies can also be posted online or a copy can be retained by the manager of the office in case the employees—or managers—need to reference those policies," he observed.

Finally, "seasonal employees need to know they should contact human resources if they have employment-related concerns," he said.

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