Employing casual workers: Your guide to holiday-hiring

The holiday season is a busy period for many businesses, often seeing an influx of orders to fill and customers to deal with – all when regular team members tend to take annual leave. At these times, an extra pair of hands (or two) can lighten the load.

According to data from job-search site, Seek, July is the beginning of a four-month spike in casual job ads in the hospitality, tourism and retail industries – with many businesses making early preparations for the summer rush. It may seem premature, but for David Zanker, founder of Christmas Casuals – a free platform connecting jobseekers and employers over Christmas – it pays to start the hiring process as soon as possible. “You should look for employees once you know you’ll need them,” he says. “It’s much better to be proactive than reactive, otherwise you might rush the process and hire someone who isn't the right fit.”

Talent scouting: where to look for casual employees

When beginning your search, try tapping into your network of family and friends. Are they – or anyone they know – keen to take on seasonal work? You can also ask existing team members for referrals or spread the word to your customers. If these sources prove fruitless – or if you prefer to keep your personal and professional lives separate – consider advertising on job-search platforms such as Seek and MyCareer. Or, try one of several sites that specialise in short-term positions, such as SpotJobs and OneShift.

When recruiting through these and other traditional channels, employers are responsible for interviewing candidates, checking references and arranging the necessary paperwork. If you’d rather outsource these tasks, platforms like Christmas Casuals, Workfast and Sidekicker have databases of vetted workers to save you the legwork. For a fee, you can advertise your position, choose the suitable candidate and get them started straight away.

Many retailers hire extra workers over the busy Christmas period

Many retailers take on extra warehouse workers over summer to deal with the Christmas rush.

Playing by the rules: Salary and workplace safety

Once you’ve recruited a new team member, there are several important steps to follow. To begin with, all Australian businesses must comply with the workplace health and safety (WHS) standards set by Safe Work Australia. These include providing adequate training to employees, arranging workers’ compensation insurance and sourcing licences for high-risk work.

You’ll also need to make sure you’re paying employees correctly. The Fair Work Pay Calculator outlines minimum rates according to industry and job type, taking into consideration any awards, allowances and penalties like overtime. While casual workers don’t get annual or sick leave, they're entitled to two days unpaid carer's leave. two days unpaid compassionate leave and unpaid community service leave.

With so much to remember, Zanker encourages business owners to follow a hiring checklist. “It’s important to make sure you've ticked all the boxes before casual workers begin their first shift,” he says. “Employers are often in a rush to get casuals started, but once they leave, it can be really hard to chase everything up.”

Trial shifts and training: which rules apply to your industry?

Every industry has its own regulatory requirements and certain roles demand special licences or qualifications. Although verifying a candidate’s credentials should be standard hiring practice, Zanker says it’s a step that can be overlooked when an employer is pressed for time. “In hospitality, for example, you need to check that the candidate’s Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) certificate is valid and current,” he says.

Likewise, most healthcare employers will need to ask candidates for police checks – and at Christmas, stores hiring a Santa must request Working with Children certificates. “At busy periods, you should include industry-specific requirements in your hiring checklist, so you can get new team members out and working as fast as possible,” says Zanker.

Retail and hospitality businesses, in particular, also need to understand the rules surrounding unpaid trials. Zanker explains that it’s legal to ask candidates to undertake an unpaid trial on the basis that you need to check if they have the skills required for the job. “For a barista, it would be reasonable to get them to come in and make coffees for an hour or so, but you can’t have them working for a couple of days as an unpaid employee,” he says. “Even if you are setting a trial period, my advice is to pay them for their time. It builds a good relationship and makes them feel valued.”

Hospitality businesses need to follow the Fair Work guidelines around unpaid trials

You can ask potential employees to demonstrate their skills in an unpaid trial shift – just make sure you follow the Fair Work guidelines.

Clear communication: the best way to be prepared

Taking on short-term employees who are unfamiliar with your business increases the potential for mistakes. To combat this, Zanker says many employers are using group-messaging apps, like WhatsApp and Google Hangouts, to keep everyone in the loop. “If you’re bringing a casual into an existing business, they’ll need to learn a lot very quickly,” he says. “With a tool like WhatsApp, casuals can ask questions as they arise and another team member can respond. It’s a neighbourly communication platform that speeds up the integration process of new staff, but also provides other opportunities, like team building and a bit of banter.”

Chat tools serve another purpose: you can use them to alert employees of any news or shift changes. For the latter, you could also use scheduling software such as Ximble, which simplifies roster creation and manages tasks such as shift swapping and time tracking.

Zanker adds that when it comes to setting work hours, it’s best to be upfront with your new helpers. Especially at Christmas, when social activities (and the beach) beckon, he suggests business owners let their team know early on exactly what’s expected of them.

Your hiring to-do list: eight steps to better recruitment

1. Know the award/agreement. These are the minimum terms and conditions of employment if an award or agreement applies to the role you’re filling.

2. Decide on the person’s employment status. Full-time, part-time and casual employees are entitled to different pay rates and conditions.

3. Pay the right rates. Visit Fair Work to check the minimum rate of pay for your employee.

4. Agree to hours and rostering. Determine an employee’s hours and rostering in advance, including extended trading hours and public holiday shifts.

5. Understand pay slip rules. See Fair Work's record-keeping page to find out what you need to include in pay-related paperwork.

6. Learn about workplace health and safety and worker’s compensation. Visit your state or territory’s work health and safety body for information.

7. Get the paperwork ready. In addition to supplying new employees with the Fair Work Information Statement and a Tax File Number Declaration, you may need to collect superannuation and bank account details.

8. Conduct an induction. This not only helps new employees settle into their role; it’s also your chance to explain workplace policies and procedures, as well as your expectations.

For more information, visit the Fair Work Ombudsman’s guide to hiring employees.