8 Tips for Hiring Holiday Help

Despite the recession, the holiday season will undoubtedly be the busiest time of year for retailers - providing them with the opportunity to gain some profitable momentum as the year comes to an end. Many retail companies will rely upon short-term staffers to help them get through the craziness of the holiday shopping season. However, in today's era of rampant litigation, retail employers have become a target and must be aware of the legal liabilities they face during this important time of year for their business.

Here are eight tips for hiring your holiday workforce according to Fisher & Phillips' Retail Industry Practice Group:

1. Be Clear about the Position from the Start. Job advertisements should state that the position is a temporary one, and employers should not guarantee a specific length of employment. In addition, communicate dress code requirements clearly as well as the dates and hours you expect the staff to be available to work. If you are hiring certain people to work on a holiday or at odd hours, you should say so up front.

2. Obey All Break Requirements & Know the Child Labor Issues. Even during the hectic holiday shopping days, retail employers must obey all overtime, meal and rest period requirements for their nonexempt employees. In addition, many high school students start their first jobs in the retail industry. In-depth knowledge of the state's child labor laws can safeguard employers against costly legal actions before they occur.

3. Properly Classify Employees. Most temporary holiday staff members won't be exempt unless retailers are hiring management personnel. To be exempt from receiving overtime pay, meal periods and rest breaks, employees must meet certain wage requirements and fulfill certain duties. Simply paying an employee on a salary rather than hourly basis does not automatically make an employee "exempt."

4. Ensure Company Handbook Addresses Compensation Issues For Those Who Work Holidays. Employers are under no obligation to provide any additional compensation to employees that work on holidays like Christmas Day or New Year's Day. Company handbooks and other written policies should specify company expectations and communicate them clearly to employees. In fact, employers may implement handbooks and policies specifically for their temporary staff.

5. Be Aware of Necessary Religious Accommodations for Staff. Some employees may not be available to work certain days due to their religious beliefs or require other accommodations in the workplace. Religious accommodations should be treated like disability or injury accommodations. Should the employer decide not to provide reasonable accommodation, the employer must show that it would pose undue hardship. During the hiring process, notify the applicant upfront regarding dates they may be scheduled or other requirements in order to help screen out potential problems before they arise.

6. Don't Overlook the Importance of Background Checks. In general, it's a good idea to do at least a criminal background check on all viable job applicants. Background screening firms will work with employers to comply with federal and state laws, and make recommendations as to the types of background checks necessary based upon the job's requirements and duties. Remember that some of these temporary employees may become full-time staff, and communicating expectations is important.

7. Notify Employees if Surveillance Cameras are Watching. If surveillance cameras are on the property as part of a loss prevention program or to heighten overall security, ensure that staff members are aware their actions may be caught on tape.

8. Know State Laws About Refusing to Hire the Unattractive. Many service- and sales-oriented businesses base their hiring practices largely on appearance - believing the outward appearance of their employees will positively affect their bottom line. While it's still generally legal to hire those that "look the part," a few states have local ordinances or regulations that forbid discrimination on certain characteristics such as height or weight.

Fisher & Phillips has developed a long-standing and nationally recognized expertise in labor and employment law in order to protect the rights of employers. Fisher & Phillips offers a wide range of services to private and public sector clients, both unionized and non-unionized. To learn more about Fisher & Phillips, visit www.laborlawyers.com.
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