Seasonal workers: what employers should know

Last updated: May 13th, 2024

As the days get longer and the skies get sunnier (well, sometimes), summer is on people’s minds. This means that business owners, meanwhile, are starting to plan for how their hiring needs may change for the next season.

And if the season brings increased business, employers may be looking to hire seasonal staff.

But employers may also have questions. How can you manage these short-term contracts while staying compliant? What rights do seasonal workers have? And what’s most important for employers to be aware of when hiring seasonal workers?

Do you know what a seasonal worker is?

First, let’s start with the basics: what exactly is a seasonal worker?

Hired in temporary employment in which the person works during certain times of the year, a seasonal worker typically works part-time. However, there are also full-time, seasonal positions.

This is seen in sectors such as horticulture, agriculture, tourism, and construction, and can include workers placed by an agency to carry out seasonal work, too.

What’s the best contract to use for seasonal work?

When considering hiring seasonal workers to help support their business during busier times, employers must provide them with the right contract. Otherwise, you risk leaving your company exposed to a claim.

Usually, seasonal workers are employed under fixed-term contracts, also sometimes referred to as a “temporary” contract. Fixed-term contracts allow employers to set the contract end date, so that the employment spans during the busiest time.

But what if you don’t know the exact end date for your busy period, exactly?

In that case, employers may want to use a specified purpose contract. This contract, instead, terminates when the “specific purpose” has been completed. This can be helpful to allow some flexibility around dates, if there is a seasonal project that needs to be carried out, or if the purpose for hiring has come to its own natural end.

Which rights does a seasonal worker have?

First, it’s important to remember that legally employed seasonal workers have the same rights and protections as any other employee under Irish law. But what does this mean, exactly?

Below are some points to consider about the rights of seasonal workers in Ireland.

Terms and conditions

You must give your seasonal worker a written statement of ten of the core terms of their employment within five days of starting work. If hiring in retail or hospitality where tips might be relevant, the tips & gratuity policy must be referenced at this point.

Wages and pay

The minimum you can pay your employees is stipulated through the National Minimum Wage. This and varies by age (maximum applied to those 20 and over) and it applies to all workers in Ireland. Employers must also keep the payment of a premium for Sunday work in mind, and consider that a written statement of wages (a payslip) must also be given to every employment with every payment.

Working hours

Workers in Ireland are entitled to a limit on their working hours, on a certain amount of time between their working hours, and a certain number of rest breaks during their working hours. This varies across industries, and may be different, for example, in agriculture and tourism.

Holiday leave and public holidays

Seasonal workers earn annual leave and public holiday entitlements just like other employees in Ireland. Public holiday entitlement depends on whether the work is part-time or full-time, and also depends on the number of hours worked.

Equal treatment

Seasonal workers have a right to be treated the same as their full-time counterparts in a comparable role. You must have a justifiable reason to offer seasonal workers employment under significantly different terms, and the reason cannot be related to their fixed-term contract. This is especially important when it comes to pay.

Discrimination

Seasonal workers are also protected by employment equality legislation. There is no minimum service requirement for this, meaning an employee has rights under it from their first day on the job. In short, The Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2021 prohibits discrimination against employees on the nine grounds, which are:

  • Gender
  • Civil status
  • Family status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religion
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Race
  • Membership of the Traveller community.

Unfair dismissals

The Unfair Dismissals Act 1977 – 2015 requires an employee to have 12 months service with their employer before they can file a complaint.

But what if your employee has worked with you for less than 12 months?

Employers should also be aware that there is legislation that does not require this length of service for an employee to be able to lodge a complaint with the WRC.

This legislation includes the Industrial Relations Acts, Organisation of Working Time Act, the Terms of Employment (Information) Act, the Payment of Wages Act, and the Protected Disclosures Act, to name a few.

A safe and healthy working environment

As an employer, you’re responsible for ensuring their safety, health, and wellbeing of your employees. In short, you have a duty of care towards them. This is also the case for seasonal workers, and particularly so if they are engaged in work that may pose a risk to them (such as agricultural work). Both the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) and Health and Safety Authority have also pledged to focus more on vulnerable workers and some seasonal workers.

What are some other considerations for seasonal workers?

While it’s crucial to stay compliant, employers should consider more than just relevant legislation when hiring seasonal employees.

Going the extra mile for your seasonal employees can increase overall satisfaction and productivity during a critical time. Even more so, if your business relies on seasonal work year after year, you can more easily incentivise your seasonal workers to return later on.

Training

Even staff that’s employed for a shorter time should receive appropriate training and induction so they can understand the standards to adhere to. Employers are encouraged to remember that although the contract may end in a short amount of time, no candidate or new employee will know your business from day 1, and will require time, direction, and assistance.

Vacancies

As an employer, you are required to let your temporary and seasonal workers know about any permanent vacancies that come up in your business during their employment. You should ensure to do so in an accessible way.

Have more questions about hiring seasonal employees?

Seasonal workers can be a valuable addition to your company, particularly during a time of increased business and employment needs. When this type of employment agreement is carried out well, it can increase your productivity and improve retention during an exciting time.

Meanwhile, mis-managing the employment of seasonal workers can leave your business exposed to long-term effects that may last well throughout the year. These can include lost productivity, financial strain, even complaints or claims.

To help protect your business, care needs to be taken to ensure that the appropriate contract is provided, and the correct procedures are followed.

Have additional questions? Call Graphite at 01 886 0350 or request a callback here.

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