The holiday shopping season is known for its long lines, steep sales and mall traffic jams, but it also prompts retailers and other businesses to hire a wave of temporary, seasonal employees to increase staffing levels during the busiest time of the year. The National Retail Federation estimates that retailers will hire between 720,000 and 780,000 seasonal employees this holiday season, which makes this a good time to review some key Massachusetts laws that may apply to seasonal and temporary employees.
- Working Days/Times: Massachusetts retail stores may open at any time, even on Sundays. Retailers may not open on Christmas Day, however, without a permit approved by the Department of Labor Standards.
- Minimum Wage/Overtime: Employers must pay seasonal employees at the minimum wage and overtime just as they would pay regular employees. When an employer terminates a seasonal employee, the employer must pay the employee his/her wages in full (including any accrued but unused vacation pay – see below regarding fringe benefits) on the date of discharge.
- Unemployment Compensation: Certified seasonal employers in Massachusetts may be relieved of some unemployment benefits charges for employee terminations made as part of seasonal operations. A seasonal employer customarily operates, because of climatic conditions or the nature of the product or service, all or a functionally distinct occupation within its business only during a regularly recurring period or periods of less than 16 weeks (think: a Christmas tree lot or a seasonal popup shop). Employers must apply for certification at least 60 days prior to the beginning of the season and notify all seasonal employees in writing that their employment will be limited to a specific season of no more than 16 weeks. Certified seasonal employers must also continue making contributions to unemployment for seasonal employees.
- Workers Compensation: Employers are required to carry workers compensation insurance coverage that covers all employees, including seasonal ones.
- Other Fringe Benefits: Employers are not required to allow seasonal employees to participate in their fringe benefit programs, such as being eligible to accrue vacation or other paid leaves, or to participate in their retirement plans, etc. However, employers must clarify in all benefit policies and documents that temporary or seasonal workers are not entitled to participate.
Employers who fail to comply with these regulations for seasonal employees may end up with more than coal in their stockings: a dreaded wage and hour lawsuit or government audit.