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Seasonal Workers: Key Contractual Issues for Employers

In sectors such as hospitality, tourism, retail and agriculture, seasonal peaks can bring an influx of work at certain times of the year. A common solution for employers in these sectors is to recruit additional employees during these periods. Below we set out the key contractual considerations for employers to bear in mind when hiring seasonal employees.

Fixed-term employees

An individual recruited to cover seasonal work may be taken on for a limited period of time. A fixed-term contract is therefore often used, with that contract ending on a specific date or on completion of a particular project.

An individual employed on a fixed-term contract is protected against less favourable treatment compared to permanent employees. For example, if an employer excludes the fixed-term employee from its bonus scheme, that would be unlawful unless the employer can objectively justify the difference in treatment or if, taken as a whole, the fixed-term employee’s package is at least as favourable as the permanent employees’ packages.

Another thing to consider is that the expiry of a fixed-term contract is deemed to be a dismissal. If the individual has two or more years’ service, the employer needs to ensure that it has a fair reason for the employment ending and needs to follow a fair termination procedure.

Part-time workers

Quite often, seasonal workers are engaged on a part-time basis as this is all that is needed to assist permanent staff. Employers should remember that part-time workers are entitled to protection against less favourable treatment compared to their full-time equivalents. It would not, therefore, be acceptable to provide only private medical insurance to full-time employees, and not to part-time workers, unless that difference in treatment can be justified on objective grounds.

Casual workers

Individuals may be recruited to work:

  • On zero-hours terms (where there is no guarantee of any work being offered); or
  • Under a contract that offers a guaranteed minimum number of hours only (where there are a certain number of working hours per week or month but with the potential for more to be offered).

It is important for employers to ensure that the terms are clearly recorded so that the expectations are clear. Whether the individual is an employee, worker or self-employed will depend on the specific circumstances of the relationship. It is very common for employers to think that, because of the informal relationship, the “casual employee” is not actually employed. However, this is not always the case and each situation should be judged on its own facts.

Umbrella contracts

Even where an employee is not employed constantly, there may still be an overriding employment relationship that spans not just the times the employee is contracted to work, but also the gaps between periods of work. This is often described as an “umbrella” contract and it essentially exists where the mutuality of obligation between the parties continues even during the periods where no work is available.

Agency workers

Another option for businesses responding to seasonal demand is to engage agency workers. In this situation, the individual would normally be a temp, hired via an employment business. In the majority of cases, that individual would not be deemed to be an employee or a worker. However, they do still have certain rights. They should be given information about any employment vacancies and access to all collective facilities, such as the work cafeteria. After 12 weeks, they are also entitled to receive the same rate of pay and basic working conditions as permanent staff.

Employing young persons

Businesses may be tempted to recruit students or school children to assist with seasonal peaks, especially where this coincides with academic holidays. Employers should bear in mind that there are strict rules governing the employment of children. There are also specific rules that apply to under-18s, especially in relation to working time.

If you need any help and advice in relation to seasonal workers, please do not hesitate to contact me or the employment team on 0113 350 4030 or at hello@scesolicitors.co.uk.

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SCE Solicitors is a boutique employment law practice based in Leeds which advises clients nationwide.  Please note that the information in this blog is to provide information of general interest in a summary manner and should not be construed as individual legal advice. Readers should consult with SCE Solicitors or other professional counsel before acting on the information contained here.

Emma Roberts
Latest posts by Emma Roberts (see all)
Emma Roberts

Emma is a trainee solicitor at SCE Solicitors. Emma commenced her training contract in September 2018 and is currently working in the employment law department assisting director Samira Cakali. Emma also assists in the running of the firm’s myHR service where she can support you in the day-to-day management of your staff.

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