A seasonal employee is an employee that a company hires to work during a specific season each year. They are an addition to a company’s standard workforce as they add capacity during a company’s busiest times of the year.

Seasonal employees must work for a company for no longer than six months each year, and they are typically hired for the same timeframe each year. They can be part-time or full-time.

Who Uses Seasonal Employees?

Seasonal employees can be hired by any business that needs extra help for a few months each year. Here are some common examples of businesses that rely on seasonal staff.

  • Summer camps typically hire camp counselors, kitchen staff, and even additional administrators for a few months each summer.
  • Ski resorts often hire lift technicians, ski instructors, ski patrollers, and resort staff for a four to six-month period each winter.
  • Farms may hire seasonal workers for as little as a few weeks at a time to get extra hands for planting or harvesting.
  • Retail stores from small businesses to big box stores often hire seasonal employees around the holidays when more people are shopping and many stores want to offer extended hours.
  • Restaurants that are located in areas with seasonal population changes—such as near a beach or lakefront town—may hire seasonal waitstaff and kitchen staff during busy periods.

Even businesses that aren’t traditionally thought of as “seasonal” can hire seasonal employees when extra capacity is needed. For example, if a manufacturing company expects an annual large order from one customer, the company may hire seasonal workers to help manage the extra demand around that time each year.

Benefits of Seasonal Employees

Why should companies hire seasonal workers as opposed to part-time or full-time employees? Seasonal staff can have several important benefits for companies that only need extra help for a few months each year.

Cost savings

Hiring seasonal employees can save companies a lot of money compared to hiring part-time or full-time employees. Seasonal employees aren’t necessarily paid less, but companies only pay them for a few months at a time when their help is needed. The rest of the year, when a company doesn’t need extra employees, it’s not paying for employees that don’t have much work to do.

Flexible capacity

Hiring seasonal employees can help companies meet demand during their busiest times of the year while maintaining the ability to scale back their workforces during less busy times. In addition, managers can decide how many seasonal workers they need each year, how many hours they need from each employee, and how long their employment should last.

Talent recruitment

Hiring seasonal employees can also be a way to test out potential employees before hiring them for part-time or full-time roles. Managers get a chance to see how an employee performs in a short-term position and then can decide whether to offer them additional employment opportunities.

Drawbacks of Seasonal Employees

While hiring seasonal employees can have advantages, there are also some drawbacks to seasonal workers that companies should be aware of.

Less investment in employees

Companies and individual managers typically put less investment into seasonal employees than they do into long-term employees. Seasonal workers may receive less training or lower-quality training, and they may not receive the same mentorship as full-time employees. This can negatively impact the quality of a seasonal employee’s work.

High turnover

Seasonal employees often lack the same commitment to a company and its culture as long-term employees. Seasonal employees may be more likely to leave a position partway through a season, leaving companies short-staffed during their busiest periods.

In addition, companies may have difficulty recruiting the same seasonal employees from year to year. This means that companies may have to start over with new, untrained employees each season.

Missing out on talent

While companies can use seasonal employment as a testing period for long-term employment, hiring on a seasonal basis can also cause companies to miss out on qualified talent. Individuals who are looking for year-round employment may not consider seasonal roles in their job searches.

Misclassification risk

The legal framework around seasonal employees can be confusing, making it relatively easy for companies to find themselves in trouble with the US Department of Labor. When hiring seasonal employees, companies must understand the laws that govern seasonal employment.

What Laws Apply to Seasonal Employees?

Numerous federal and state labor laws apply to seasonal employees. Employers must be careful not to misclassify seasonal workers or run afoul of requirements as this could result in penalties from the US Department of Labor.

Let’s take a closer look at two of the most important federal laws that employers need to be aware of when hiring seasonal employees.

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

Seasonal employees may be classified as either exempt or non-exempt under the FLSA according to the same rules that govern full-time employees. If seasonal employees are FLSA non-exempt, they must be paid at least the federal minimum wage and receive overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours per week.

Note that the FLSA does not apply to select seasonal businesses—including amusement parks, beaches, golf courses, summer camps, and religious or nonprofit educational conference centers. To qualify for FLSA exemption, these businesses must operate for seven months or less each year or have revenue over a six-month period that is less than 33% of the revenue over the remaining six months of the year.

Affordable Care Act (ACA)

The ACA requires that all employers with at least 50 full-time employees offer healthcare benefits. Seasonal employees who work at least 30 hours per week must also be offered healthcare benefits.

Tips for Hiring Seasonal Employees

Having a plan for how to hire seasonal employees can make a big difference in the quality of employees your company gets. Here are a few tips for how to hire seasonal workers.

Start the hiring process early

Individuals who work seasonal jobs are typically planning for the summer or winter season well in advance. If your company needs a large number of seasonal workers, start advertising as early as possible to ensure that you can fill all the available positions with qualified talent.

Set expectations

Make it clear to prospective candidates whether there are opportunities for part-time or full-time positions after their seasonal employment ends. If there are, seasonal employees may be incentivized to work harder and form relationships with managers. If there aren’t, seasonal employees will know from the start that they need to look for other opportunities at the end of the season.

Offer flexibility

When possible, ask your seasonal employee what schedule they prefer to work and how many hours they want to commit to, so you can try to match their preferences. Seasonal workers will tell others about their experience working for your company, so it’s important to make their experience as good as possible.

Take onboarding seriously

The onboarding process for seasonal workers offers a chance to connect them to your company culture and create an attachment to your company. To the extent possible, onboarding for seasonal employees should be the same as for new full-time employees.

The more committed a seasonal employee feels to your company, the more likely they are to stay until the end of the season and to return the following year.

Provide incentives

Incentives can make a big difference in attracting talent, retaining seasonal workers for the entire season, and encouraging top employees to return year after year. Potential incentives include an end-of-season bonus or raise for seasonal employees each year they return to your company.

Seasonal Employees vs. Temporary Employees

Although seasonal employees are temporary, they are distinct from temporary employees.

Seasonal employees are hired directly by your company for a short period and are used to add capacity to your labor force. Seasonal workers are subject to the same protections and labor regulations as full-time employees.

Temporary employees are typically hired for a specific project—as opposed to a season—or to fill in for a full-time employee who is on leave. In most cases, your company will contract with a temp agency, which sends an employee to your company. The temporary employee is not directly employed by your company, but rather may be an employee of the agency or an independent contractor.

Conclusion

Seasonal employees are employees who are hired for six months or less to add to a company’s workforce during busy times of the year. Seasonal workers offer companies flexibility and cost-savings, but they may not be as invested in a company as full-time employees. In most cases, seasonal employees are subject to the same labor protections as full-time employees, so companies need to be cautious not to misclassify seasonal employees.

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