Reduction in force (RIF), laying off, rightsizing — whatever you call it, small business owners who depend upon seasonal employees must face downsizing staff after their busy seasons. No one enjoys this, even when everyone involved knows what's coming. But there are steps you can take to ease the pain for both you and your staff. And some steps should come way before termination.
Even though you may be hiring a duplicate position, have a separate job description titled "Seasonal XYZ," so whomever you take on will have no expectation the job will go past a certain date.
Similarly, when you advertise your position, ensure you clearly state the job is only for X number of months. This transparency sets you up for downsizing staff without fear of recourse related to protected class.
If you have other staff, let them in on the process by telling them you are bringing in reinforcements for the season. Do this to not only let them know their workloads will get lighter, but also to allay any fears they may have that you're onboarding employees to replace their position.
When you interview and onboard your seasonal staff, ensure you include in the offer letter the expected length of the employment and an expected termination date. Also include language reminding the employee that you're an at-will employer and that employment may be terminated at any time for any lawful reason. This can undercut arguments that you promised employment for a certain length of time, while still making the expected contract end date clear.
You want a smooth transition when seasonal staff arrives as well as when they leave. To make this happen, you need to have a plan for who's going to train the seasonal employees, how work is to be divided and how work will go back to normal at season's end. This is a great avenue for getting staff involved. They'll have the best understanding of how to most effectively divide tasks. This also allows you to grow your current employees' experience by introducing that training factor.
As your seasonal staff's tenure comes to a close, be understanding and offer some flexibility with their schedules so they can interview for their next gig.
But don't forget your regular staff. If you offer flexibility for seasonal workers, consider providing the same opportunities for the rest of your workforce.
Before beginning the termination process, consider any risk factors that may be associated with their separation from employment. If you have determined there are no obstacles to moving forward, plan for no more than one or two termination meetings:
- A couple weeks before, when you'll remind them in person and in writing that the termination date is coming up. This is when you let the person know you'll work with them on their interview schedule (within reason). But remind them they are still expected to perform their work.
- On termination day, when you get termination paperwork signed.
Say Thank You
When it comes time to say goodbye, be sincere, but professional. If it's in the budget, consider a parting gift as a way to thank them for their services. The gesture will not go unnoticed, and you'll stand a better chance at rehiring them next season. Just remember that if you do offer a gift, you must be consistent among your seasonal workforce.
Also consider finding a way to acknowledge the other members of your workforce who stepped up to train seasonal staff. They've stepped up to help train seasonal staff and probably did some light supervisory duties. They deserve to be thanked and recognized for not only being engaged, but for continuing to do great work.
A Word on Unemployment
You may be asked about unemployment insurance (UI). Federal law gives states the right to decide whether seasonal employees receive benefits. You need to know your obligations. Check the U. S. Department of Labor's site for details.
Consider consulting with experience employment counsel to help you understand your HR, as well as wage and hour rules, that may impact your seasonal workforce.
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