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10 Things to Know About Hiring and Onboarding a Seasonal Workforce

BY Rebecca Cenni-Leventhal

With the holiday season rapidly approaching, many retailers will once again be gearing up to hire seasonal workers to handle the crowds of extra customers. In fact, many retailers have already announced their plans to hire additional employees for the holiday season, with several of them intending to hire even more seasonal employees than they did last year.

As retailers ramp up hiring for their busiest time of the year, it is important to be aware of some of the steps they should be taking to ensure they are compliant with hiring laws and employing best practices when it comes to onboarding and managing seasonal employees. Here are 10 things to keep in mind.

1. In a tight job market, will there be workers available?
As retailers are poised to benefit from anticipated increases in consumer holiday spending, some are concerned about the tight job market and worry: “Will there be enough workers around to hire?” Generally, there is no shortage of people to hire. The issue to really worry about is keeping those temporary hires on board throughout the entire season.

It pays to be mindful of the likelihood that your hires may drop out early due to personal matters or even other opportunities. Reports of retailers offering workers incentives may entice your hires to “shop around” even after they are offered a position to work at your store. You may want to consider over-hiring to compensate for this anticipated attrition.

2. Steps to take after you make the offer.
As employment laws differ throughout various cities and states, it’s important to be aware of the laws that apply to your particular store location. Questions that you may have been used to asking during an interview may now be illegal. For example “ban the box”—which prohibits asking about a job candidate’s conviction or arrest record—is effective in the majority of states and in more than 150 cities and counties.

You may however still need to know if your candidate has a criminal record, especially if s/he will be handling costly product. If this is the case, consider hiring a staffing agency that can help you find trusted talent as well as conduct a background check on new hires prior to beginning the job. Do note to your candidates that any offer is contingent upon a cleared background check.

3. Ensure compliance with employee laws.
Ensuring that all relevant paperwork is filled out and properly filed will put you ahead of the curve. Seasonal employees, just like full-time employees, are governed by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) as well as state/city-specific employee laws. Therefore, all seasonal employees should be filling out an I-9 form (which determines eligibility to work in the US) as well as a W-4 form, along with any state-specific forms. Being compliant is always mandatory, but it is also important to know that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has increased the number of audit notices it has sent out to employers this year, and failure to comply can result in significant fines. Bottom line: Be in the know and don’t risk non-compliance!

4. Confidentiality agreements: Have them signed!
If the seasonal employee has access to intellectual property, confidential company information or customer information during the course of their work, you would benefit from having them sign a confidentiality agreement (especially with anticipated fall-off of workers who may leave you to go to a competing retailer).

5. Employee handbook: Your employees need one!
If seasonal employees are being hired and paid directly by the company, another step involves giving them the company’s employee handbook, which is as essential to them as it is to the company’s year-round, permanent employees. The handbook should clearly define what a “seasonal employee” is either in terms of duration of assignment or hours worked or both. It should also outline any company policies they must comply with along with any fringe benefits the employees are entitled to.

6. Training for everyone
Product knowledge is essential, and trained new hires are successful brand ambassadors. Because their tenure is expected to be short-term, some retailers may want to skip this important step, but do keep in mind that some states/cities may require training. Even if they have years of retail experience, training is actually required in certain areas. Before they are put out on the floor or in the warehouse/inventory room, it is really in everyone’s best interest to be sure the employees go over even the most basic safety procedures and protocols to minimize the risk of injury or other mishaps. In many states, safety training is actually required by law.

Additionally, seasonal employees—no less than permanent employees—also need to be trained on how to deal with and properly report any behaviors that are considered harassment in the workplace.

7. Keeping records: Tracking hours, pay and benefits
Some may think that because seasonal employees only work a short amount of time it’s not that important to keep concise records on hours, pay and benefits. Think again.

The proper tracking of accrued hours is vital for calculating pay and benefits for seasonal employees, even though they may never be entitled to your corporate benefits. For example, the question of when money should be deducted from their salaries to pay for uniforms and/or tools is an important one. Any work beyond forty hours qualifies for time and a half and some states have also established laws that require retailers to pay seasonal employees time and a half for work performed on Sundays and holidays. And although seasonal employees who work for less than six months are typically ineligible for health benefits, the law requires that their working hours be tracked anyway to confirm or disconfirm their eligibility. Each retailer is responsible for establishing its own tracking period for its seasonal employees, whether that period mirrors the company’s own benefit year or consists of a 12-month rolling period that begins on the employee’s first day of work. (Once the employee has worked at least six months, they are typically eligible for health benefits.)

A related issue is the fact that various cities and states have established — or are planning to establish — laws governing paid sick leave. For example, the state of New Jersey intends to enact its own Paid Sick Leave Law at the end of October 2018. Tracking seasonal employees’ hours is vital in order to calculate who among them might be eligible to benefit from these laws.

8. Set scheduling expectations in advance.
Setting out a concrete work schedule in advance for seasonal employees can also help retailers manage their specific needs during peak periods—and it benefits the employees as well. Various cities, including New York, San Francisco and Seattle, have recently passed “predictive scheduling” laws that require a certain amount of advance notice to be given to part-time workers regarding their hours, and that restrict how changes and cancellations to these work requirements can be made.

9. Make them feel part of the team.
The best thing you can do for your business is to make your employees, even the seasonal ones, feel like they are a part of something. Not only will they perform better in the immediate term, but they may be candidates you can easily rehire for temporary or permanent work in the future, drastically cutting down your time to hire the next time around. Not only that, they will be more likely to speak highly of your store and your brand which is always invaluable.

10. Experts are available to help so that retailers can concentrate on sales.
In light of the series of challenges faced by retailers that employ seasonal employees—and the fact that many laws and regulations regarding their management vary from state to state—many retailers may lack the bandwidth to fulfill these tasks or to address them as carefully as they deserve to be. As a result, it can be convenient for a retailer to engage the services of a staffing company that has a solid track record in the placement and management of seasonal employees. The staffing company can not only forward qualified candidates to the retailer for its consideration; it can also onboard the candidates, handle all their paperwork, track their hours, assess whether they qualify for health and other benefits, and perform related tasks. This takes the burden off the retailer’s plate and allows its management team to focus more closely on meeting their customers’ needs and increasing business.

Rebecca Cenni-Leventhal is CEO and founder of Atrium, a staffing and contingent workforce solutions firm that offers clients a consultative and personalized approach to their talent management needs. Atrium services high-profile startups, mid-sized companies and Fortune 500 companies.

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Online fraud attacks on the rise

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Retailers continue to feel the fallout from online fraud, and the pressure is on as they are attacked from multiple sources.

Online fraud attacks took a toll on retailers in late 2017, with returns abuse spiking 119%, and policy abuse increasing 93% in the fourth quarter alone, according to the “Fraud Attack Index” from Forter.

The fraud prevention software company detected more than 200,000 policy abusers. Worse, repeat offenders attempted to conceal their identities and strike again.

“Repeat offenders continue to be an ongoing issue for online merchants. As online marketplaces expand, fraudsters are finding more vulnerabilities to exploit and strengthen their method of attack in order to best source their illicit incomes,” the report revealed.

Account takeovers (ATOs) were also prime booty for cyber-criminals in 2017, as incidents jumped 53% year-over-year in the third quarter of 2017. The good news however, is that the fourth quarter saw a slower growth of 8%, and by the first quarter of 2018, there was a 0.6% decrease in ATOs.

However, retailers should not be fooled by this decrease, as identity fraud is also declining. While this should be good news, fraudsters have figured out that stealing one’s account is more profitable than stealing an identity, making ATOs the crime of choice, the study revealed.

Some online retail segments are also more lucrative for thieves than others. For example, the beauty industry saw an uptick in fraud in Q3 of 2017 with an 186% increase of fraud attacks, followed by 167% in digital goods. Electronics lagged behind at 66%, followed by 60% in food and beverage, jewelry and luxury (38%), and apparel and accessories (7%).

“The customer journey includes more than just the point of transaction and checkout. From the moment a customer logs onto a website, to redeeming loyalty points or entering a coupon code, their shopping journey is rich and simultaneously vulnerable to new methods of exploitation.,” the study explained.

“Retailers must look to their fraud teams and solution providers to create a more robust preventative solution and stem these growing methods of attack,” the study said. “While simultaneously ramping up their defenses, online retailers should ensure that their fraud prevention mechanisms do not create friction for their shoppers. Cart abandonment is becoming a growing issue for retailers, as friction-filled checkouts cause shopper drop off.”

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Amazon ‘listened’ to critics, raises minimum wage

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Amazon has made a move fueled by economic imperatives and political pressure, including withering criticism from Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The online giant announced that it will increase its minimum wage to $15 for all full-time, part-time, temporary (including those hired by agencies), and seasonal employees across the United States. The wage hike, which goes into effect on Nov. 1, will benefit more than 250,000 existing Amazon employees, and more than 100,000 seasonal employees that the company plans to hire for the holiday season.

“We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do, and decided we want to lead,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO. “We’re excited about this change and encourage our competitors and other large employers to join us.”

Amazon is so bullish on the plan that its public policy team will begin advocating for an increase in the federal minimum wage. The rate has been stuck at $7.25 for nearly a decade.

“We will be working to gain Congressional support for an increase in the federal minimum wage,” said Jay Carney, senior VP of Amazon Global Corporate Affairs. “We intend to advocate for a minimum wage increase that will have a profound impact on the lives of tens of millions of people and families across this country.”

Amazon’s wage hike follows heavy criticism from labor rights groups, and also from Sen. Bernie Sanders, over pay and working conditions at its warehouses. The progressive icon posted a series of Facebook videos calling out Amazon for not paying a living wage, which he describes in some posts as $15 an hour. In one video, titled “Get Amazon Off of Corporate Welfare,” he highlighted that CEO Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest person and earns $260 million a day, but many of his workers are on food stamps.

In response to Amazon’s wage hike announcement, Sanders stated he wanted to “give credit where credit it due. And I want to congratulate Mr. Bezos for doing exactly the right thing.”

“What Mr. Bezos has done today is not only enormously important for Amazon’s hundreds of thousands of employees, it could well be, and I think it will be, a shot heard around the world,” he said.

Analyst Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, said that while Amazon’s wage hike was politically savvy, it was driven by economic imperatives.

“Amazon’s superior growth necessitates a lot of recruitment which is becoming increasingly difficult in a tight labor market,” he commented. “This is especially so over the holiday season. Without a rise in wages, Amazon would be placing itself at a disadvantage in the labor market.” (Click here for more commentary)

Two of Amazon’s biggest rivals, Walmart and Target, previously announced plans to raise their starting wages. Target raised its minimum wage to $12 an hour with a plan to increase it to $15 by 2020. Walmart raised its minimum wage to $11 in January.

Amazon’s U.S. employees are not the only ones who will benefit from the wage increases. The company will also boost its minimum wage to £10.50 (or $13.60 USD) for the London area and £9.50 ($12.60 USD) for the rest of the UK for all full-time, part-time, temporary (including those hired by agencies), and seasonal employees.

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