How to hire temporary employees and seasonal staff

Blogs 14 Oct 2020

Find out what you need to know when hiring a temporary employee in your small business, including fixed-term contracts, employee rights and notice periods.

This content was last updated 30 September 2021

Having extra help during your busy trading periods, such as during the summer season or when reopening your business, can help your business stay flexible and meet demand.

Data from the Office of National Statistics has shown the overall number of vacancies rose to just over 1 million between June and August 2021: the first time figures have reached this milestone since records began in 2001. This is against the backdrop of changes to immigration rules and an ongoing skills shortage, reducing the potential availability of candidates for small businesses looking to hire. 

Allowing as much time as possible to plan recruitment and advertise vacancies can help mitigate the risk of unfilled or poorly filled vacancies, particularly in those sectors where businesses are experiencing greater difficulties in filling vacancies. 

So, if you’re looking to hire temporary employees, experts from FSB Employment Protection answer your frequently asked questions about taking on seasonal staff, from employments contracts to your legal considerations.

What is a temporary employee?

Temporary employees are hired on a fixed-term contract for an agreed period of time, either with an end date or upon completion of a specific project.

For example, this includes seasonal employees taken on for up to six months during a peak period, specialist employees or cover for maternity leave.

It doesn’t apply to those who have a contract with an agency (as they are likely to be an employee of the agency), students on a work experience placement (who are unlikely to have employment status) or apprentices (who have different statutory rights).

What are the benefits?

  • Meet demands of your peak trading periods in your industry
  • Maintain high levels of service and customer expectations
  • Avoid being overstaffed in low season when demand drops
  • Support with staffing issues caused by sickness, holidays or maternity leave

What rights does a temporary employee have?

Seasonal or fixed-term contract workers are entitled to the same working conditions and benefits as your permanent staff in comparable roles. They should have the same working hours, pay and holidays as if they were permanent unless you can justify any less favourable treatment on objective business grounds.

You can’t treat a temporary worker less favourably than other permanent employees doing the same job, unless there is a good business reason to do so.

They should be given information about permanent vacancies in your organisation, as well as receive protection against redundancy.

What should be in an employment contract for temporary staff?

Whether your employee is permanent or only helping out for a short time, you must have a contract of employment in place. Legislation requires that any new hire be given a written statement of employment particulars by the date they start the job. 

Be extremely clear about what role is being offered, and include all conditions and stipulations. The contract will be largely the same as the ones for your permanent employees, except:

  • It’s a fixed-term contract, so you need to include the date you expect employment to end, or for the project to reach completion.
  • You can’t end the contract before the end date unless the contract contains a notice clause permitting notice to be given before the end date. To reduce the risk of a claim for unfair dismissal where the fixed-term contract remains in place for at least 2 years, you should ensure there’s a valid reason for ending the contract, or for deciding not to extend it, such as redundancy, ‘some other substantial reason’ or misconduct and that a fair dismissal process is followed.
  • An agency would be responsible for workers’ rights under working time regulations and national minimum wage law.

FSB members can download customisable contract templates, including a template fixed term contract and guidance notes, through the FSB Legal Hub.

Do temporary staff get holiday pay?

Yes. All employees are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ holiday per year, which equates to 28 days’ holiday a year for a full-time employee. Your temporary employee will accrue holidays on a pro-rata basis during their first year and final year of employment.

Do you have to auto enrol temporary staff?

Your legal duties will still apply.

You need to assess temporary employees every time you pay them, even if they’re only working for you for a few days, based on the usual criteria. You’ll need to consider employment length, variable earnings and that they main join and leave in the middle of pay periods.

If someone is working for less than three months, you can choose to delay this process by using postponement.

The Pensions Regulator has more detailed guidance on pensions and temporary staff.

How long can you hire a temporary employee?

After four years, any employee on a fixed-term contract may automatically become a permanent employee unless there is an objective business reason that justifies a further renewal for a fixed term.

What right to work checks do I need to do?

Employers have a legal obligation to ensure they are not employing individuals, including temporary staff, who do not have the right to work in the UK.  If right to work checks are carried out correctly, a statutory excuse against liability for a civil penalty for employing someone who does not have the legal right to work in the UK will be established. Since July 2021, all EU nationals (except for Irish nationals) who are new recruits have needed to provide evidence of their permission to be in the UK to their employer with either a status under the EU Settlement Scheme or a UK visa obtained under the Immigration Rules.

Government guidance on right to work checks explains what employers must do to prevent illegal working in the UK by carrying out document checks on people before employing them (including for temporary recruits) to make sure they are allowed to work. A Right to Work checklist and guidance is available on the FSB Legal Hub.

How rigorous should we be with our recruitment checks, considering the positions are temporary?

How rigorous your recruitment checks are depends on the level of responsibility and the skills required for the role.

Although the recruitment is temporary, it is still a good idea to make receipt of satisfactory references a condition of employment, so that where references are not satisfactory, you can either withdraw a conditional offer of employment if the employment has not yet started, or dismiss on this basis.  If the turn-around time for receiving references is an issue and you need to recruit quickly, you could ask for new starters to bring references with them.

FSB members have access to guidance and template letters for obtaining references and conditional offer letters on the FSB Legal Hub.

How much notice can temporary employees give?

Employees must give notice of their resignation at least one week in advance if they’ve worked for you for a month or more, depending on the contract.

How much notice do I need to give a temporary employee?

Fixed-term contracts usually end on an agreed date, so you don’t need to give notice but you may still need to follow a fair dismissal process, particularly if the fixed-term employee has at least 2 years’ service and has therefore accrued unfair dismissal rights, as the expiry of a fixed-term contract is regarded as a dismissal in law.

If the work ends before the agreed date, you may be able to end the contract early, as long as this isn’t in breach of contract. If the employment contract allows the employee to be dismissed early, then you need to give the minimum notice period of:

  • One week if they’ve worked continuously for at least one month
  • One week for each year they’ve worked, if they’ve worked continuously for two years or more

You can find more information about fixed-term contracts on the government website. If you’ve got a specific question, FSB members can call the legal advice line 24/7 for employment advice.

What if I do not know in advance how much work will be available for the employee?

Where you are unable to guarantee a minimum number of hours’ work per week for the temporary employee, you may wish to consider using a zero hours or casual hours contract. This is a type of contract where the worker is not guaranteed a set number of hours by the employer. Staff on these contracts are only paid for the hours they work, giving the employer more flexibility during periods where there’s less work for them to do, or where the amount of work is unpredictable. 

Template zero hours and casual hours contracts are available on the FSB Legal Hub.

Are temporary staff entitled to redundancy pay?

After two years, the employee will be entitled to redundancy pay and the same redundancy rights as a permanent employee.

Read our guide to redundancy for more information on the process.

So, how do I hire the right seasonal staff?

Once you’ve checked all your legal obligations, there’s only one key element that you must remember when hiring temporary staff: choose carefully.

Just because you’re hiring staff on a temporary basis doesn’t mean you should pick anyone who applies for the job. Do they have the skills and attributes you’d expect from your regular team?

It is always a good idea to try to hold interviews in advance of your busy season. Doing so means trial shifts can take place earlier. You should bear in mind that where an individual is asked to carry out a ‘trial’, ‘test’ or ‘recruitment exercise’, the individual may nevertheless be a ‘worker’ and be entitled to the minimum wage during a trial shift. 

Ready to hire?

FSB Employment Protection offers you online legal advice and guidance on UK employment legislation. From getting the paperwork right to employment tribunal cover, we make dealing with HR easy.

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