Engaging Seasonal Workers and Summer Interns

By:  Kim Adamson

Seasonal employees are a vital part of many organizations’ business models.  Attracting and retaining seasonal workers is essential to the efficient and effective operations of the business.  Human Resources staff and management teams are critical in developing programs to encourage seasonal staff development, engagement, and loyalty.  Below are some issues to consider when creating your seasonal and internship programs.  

Engagement and Motivation Ideas

  • Set clear expectations. Successful seasonal worker, seasonal employee, or internship programs should be established in writing and signed by both the worker and the company and define the terms of the engagement (i.e., duration, compensation, training, duties, and job expectations, training, benefits, if applicable, and any perks the company offers the employee).
  • Ensure employees know about the company, culture, their manager, and the department they will be assigned to.  Provide fun facts and information about the company!
  • HR needs to provide training and support to managers to ensure managers have a plan and are prepared to handle the responsibilities of managing seasonal and temporary staff. Ongoing scheduled check-ins with managers and HR are essential for all involved.
  • Onboarding and Training. HR and Managers should ensure the employee has a positive and thorough onboarding and training experience.  Scheduled days for onboarding during the first one to two weeks of employment will ensure the is not overwhelmed with information.  The goal is to provide the employee knows what they need to succeed in their role and how they contribute to the overall success of their team, department, and the company!
  • Consider the benefits of peer-to-peer training with other staff.
  • Show appreciation and recognition. Provide seasonal and temporary employees with the awesome perks your company offers!
  • Make sure employees know the “end game plan” for their engagement with the company.
  • Managers and HR staff should discuss possible employment opportunities at the company that may exist for seasonal or temporary employees. 

Correctly Classifying your Seasonal Employee, Seasonal Worker, or Intern

Misclassifying an intern or a seasonal worker as a seasonal employee could cause a business to pay significant penalties.

  • A seasonal employee is a temporary employee who works to meet a company’s temporary needs during certain times of the year for which the customary annual employment is six months or less. The reference to the term “customary” means the seasonal employees typically work around the same time each calendar year, such as during certain months or the holiday season (i.e., ski resorts that are only open during a part of each year).
  • A seasonal worker is employed for no more than four months (or 120 days) during the previous calendar year (i.e., rotating cashiers hired during the summer months of Memorial day to Labor Day).
  • A summer intern is usually a college student or recent graduate who works for a company on a temporary basis, often for academic credit. An internship is for education and training purposes and should not replace an employee’s work. Internships are meant to be a source of free labor in which early talent gains skills to find a meaningful job in their industry of choice. An unpaid internship program is entirely legal in the U.S., provided the intern is the primary beneficiary of the arrangement;  the employer cannot be the primary beneficiary.  The Department of Labor has identified a seven-point test that helps determine whether or not an intern is the party benefiting from the intern-employer relationship. The seven-point primary beneficiary test is:
    1. Interns understand that the internship program is to gain professional experience and not for compensation.
    2. Training is similar to that received at their academic institution.
    3. The internship program is to be tied to the intern’s current program of study, and they’re to receive academic credit.
    4. The internship program must accommodate the intern’s academic calendar.
    5. The intern understands that the internship program does not guarantee or provide entitlement to a permanent position at its conclusion.
    6. An intern’s work is not to replace an existing employee’s work. Instead, it’s intended to complement the role while adding invaluable skills to fill skill gaps.
    7. The internship program is to be limited to the period during which the intern receives beneficial learning.

Of note, there is no single factor in determining the seven-point analysis and it is more like a set of guidelines rather than a list of rules.  If the internship does not comply with the seven-point analysis, and the company is the primary beneficiary in the relationship, many companies elect to offer paid internship opportunities.  The intern is then classified as a temporary employee and must be paid according to the Fair Labor Standards Act regarding minimum wage and overtime pay.  A company considering an internship program, whether unpaid (a seasonal employee) or paid (a temporary employee), should consult federal and state labor guidelines and work with their legal counsel before to deciding about whether an internship should be paid or unpaid. 

Compliance Considerations

  • Maintain accurate time records for each employee (non-exempt, hourly).
  • HR staff often track seasonal workers’ information in their HRIS database to maintain rehire eligibility. This helps to determine which employees to bring back or not.
  • Train employees about the company’s anti-harassment, discrimination, and anti-retaliation policies.
  • Ensure the employees are trained about company policies and procedures applicable to their position and department. Provide a copy of the company’s employee handbook and note the policies that apply to seasonal or internships, including at-will status.
  • If employing minors under the age of 18, ensure compliance with state laws regarding scheduling, hours worked, pay, and any other restrictions.
  • The reference to a seasonal worker matters when determining Applicable Large Employers (ALEs) status. ALEs are those who employed 50 or more full-time equivalent employees in the previous calendar year. Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) law, ALEs must offer minimum essential coverage to at least 95% of their full-time employees, or they risk penalties. A full-time employee is classified as an employee working 30+ hours per week and does not make an exception for interns.  ALEs who fail to meet this offer requirement risk a significant penalty if just one full-time employee receives a subsidized individual health insurance plan through a Marketplace.



Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act | U.S. Department of Labor (dol.gov)