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With the holiday season quickly approaching, businesses large and small are hiring temporary workers to meet the expected uptick in consumer demand. British clothing and food retailer Marks & Spencer plans to recruit 10,000 temporary workers for the Christmas season, while supermarket group Sainsbury’s is recruiting 22,000 temporary workers and Tesco, Britain’s biggest retailer, is looking to hire 30,000 seasonal employees.

While employing temporary workers is crucial for guaranteeing customers receive proper assistance and shelves stay well-stocked, it also presents distinct challenges and potential risks for employers. With tens of thousands of temporary, seasonal workers it’s vital that employers know the laws and regulations that apply to this type of employee.

The benefit of seasonal workers

Recent surveys reveal that British businesses are grappling with a decline in activity and cooling cost pressures, however, hiring temporary workers during the holiday season is still viewed as essential as additional, temporary workers bring a number of benefits to businesses during the busiest time of the year.

Some key benefits of hiring additional employees during the holiday season include:

  • Meeting demands of peak trading periods
  • Maintaining high levels of service and customer satisfaction
  • Support with staffing issues that can arise from sicknesses such as the common cold and full-time employees taking time off for the holidays
Equal rights for all

Although seasonal and temporary workers generally operate on fixed-term contracts, they have the same rights as full-time employees. It’s vital that employers remember that just because an employee is temporary and may only be with a company for several weeks, that employee should be treated with the same respect and rights as year-round employees.

Legally, seasonal employees are required to be provided with a written contract of employment. If an employer intends to end the employment of a seasonal worker prior to the conclusion of the agreed fixed-term period, this can only occur if stipulated within the contract. It’s imperative to guarantee that any termination aligns with the contract’s provisions, and in terms of notice, it must not fall below the legally mandated minimum notice requirements.

As with full-time employees, seasonal employees must be paid at least the national minimum wage, are entitled to rest breaks, and are afforded protection from discrimination and whistleblowing.

Don’t trip up

It’s important to remember key steps to take while hiring seasonal employees, these include:

  • Don’t neglect background checks Although seasonal workers are hired on a fixed-contract basis, conducting a thorough and proper background check is essential to ensure that employers are hiring reliable staff. Employees with a criminal background or an unreliable work history may become much more of a risk than a benefit during the holiday shopping season
  • Safety first New and less-experienced seasonal hires face a higher risk of injury compared to full-time, long-term employees. However, this can be avoidable. Safety training must take centre stage in your onboarding process for new recruits. Additionally, it’s important to provide continuous training and mentorship to safeguard staff from injuries

Even though dedicating additional time to train seasonal workers, who may only be with the company for a matter of weeks, might seem counterintuitive and resource-intensive, the expense of safety training is far more beneficial than the potential costs of a costly employee lawsuit.

  • Right to workIn 2021, seasonal workers made up over half (55%) of all Temporary work grants, this represents a large increase, up from 7,211 in the previous year to 29,631. Conducting proper right-to-work checks provides legal protection against penalties for employing individuals without the right to work in the UK
  • Employment rights Most businesses will be safe from unfair dismissal claims from seasonal workers as they will be employed for less than the two years’ qualifying service required to claim unfair dismissal. Alternatively, some businesses may choose to employ seasonal workers on zero hours contracts who again do not have unfair dismissal rights

Although most seasonal workers will not have claims for unfair dismissal, businesses still need to be diligent when recruiting and dismissing, and if a seasonal worker complains about perceived unfair treatment as they still may have protection from automatic unfair dismissal (where you do not need two years’ qualifying service) and other employment rights, including protection from discrimination. It’s very important that businesses take employment law advice on each individual they employ to help prevent any potential employment claims. If your business has Commercial Legal Expenses Insurance with Arc Legal, then they should contact our Legal Assistance Helpline for employment law advice.

Businesses have a huge job ahead of them to prepare for the busy Christmas period, but by brushing up and taking time to understand the rights and responsibilities facing both employers and employees, everyone can make Santa’s ‘good list’.

Michael Jenkins, Head of Legal Advice, Arc Legal Group

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