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From Opening Day to the Playoffs: Managing an MiLB Seasonal Workforce

by Brad Johnson on October 24, 2018
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"It is a worker's market," said Jocelyn Mangan (Chief Operating Officer of online employment platform at Snagajob) to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). "Employers are having to work harder."

Why? For one thing, unemployment is historically low, just 3.7 percent. That means job seekers have many options to consider. And they are taking this opportunity to comparison shop and influence the job market.

It’s especially true of seasonal employment. Employees want predictable hours, extra work to increase their earnings, higher pay and easy access to detailed job listings. The current excess of open jobs means workers can pick the work and hours that best suit them. Smart employers are listening as they compete for fewer candidates.

According to SHRM, mobile apps allow people to see what kinds of work is available as well as where and when the employer needs it done. Transparent compensation details (and higher wages) make it easy to weed through and eliminate job opportunities quickly. What this means for Minor League Baseball (MiLB) teams is that you need to get your job information online as soon as hiring season picks up in March.

Fortunately, MiLB is part of an industry predicted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to have solid long-term growth through 2026. Baseball has long had a reliable base of willing workers: students, teachers, retirees and those who just love being part of the game. For an idea of just how significant seasonal employment is in the sports industry, consider 2018 statistics: total US employment in the “sports teams and clubs” industry peaked at 118,000 in August (for comparison, the low in January was 62,700, which is a historically typical low).

The advice often directed to seasonal employers in industries like retail, shipping and landscaping, applies to baseball too: hire and prepare workers as early as possible, be mindful of employment laws, and keep your relationship with employees strong, even after the job ends.

Build a strong seasonal workforce

With luck, many of last season’s workers will want to return, which reduces the number of jobs you have to fill. But you’ll probably still have plenty of open positions, so consider these options for finding employees:

  • Reach out to your best workers and invite them to apply – don’t wait for them to ask.
  • Ask your regular staff for references, and consider asking last season’s employees for references too.
  • Advertise online through job sites, including the Professional Baseball Employment Opportunities (PBEO) website, the official job site for MiLB. Teams can post opportunities for seasonal workers and interns.
  • Post positions to your social media accounts and email your season ticket holders to spread the word early. Target posts to your reliable bases of workers such as students, teachers and senior citizens.

Hosting a job fair at your stadium is a great way to interact with applicants and get them excited about your team. Create a press release like this one from the Kane County Cougars, and send out social media posts and email blasts to generate interest in the event. Cover the bases for a successful fair, such as:

  • Providing details about the types of jobs available and duties,
  • Highlighting perks like flexible hours, competitive wages or discounts on tickets or merchandise,
  • Interviewing candidates, taking applications and indicating next steps,
  • Making it fun for applicants with a special appearance from the mascot and/or players,
  • Showing off your team culture to show people why you’re a great employer to work for.

Your employees, even seasonal ones, represent you and your team’s brand, so don’t neglect to train them and treat them like your other employees. It’s tempting to rush through orientation or spend little time discussing expectations because they are temporary, but they will remember how they were treated. If you don’t help them feel like part of the team, they might not act like it either.

As this article from Training Industry says, temporary employees deserve the same level of manager commitment and training as full-time employees. Set them up for success at the time of onboarding: you never know when a seasonal employee may be a viable candidate for a full-time position.

Just as you would with regular employees, recognize seasonal hires for a job well done. You can also encourage year-round and seasonal staff to work together since they share the goal of creating a great game day experience each time.

Employment laws still apply

They may be temporary, but seasonal workers are covered by the same state and federal laws as your regular employees. Federal requirements include the following points:

  • The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). All hourly employees are covered and the law does not include definitions for “part-time” or “full-time” status.
  • Seasonal employees must be paid at least federal minimum wage or your state’s minimum wage (whichever is higher).
  • Hourly employees working more than 40 hours in one week must be paid overtime (1.5 times the usual pay rate, or more depending on your state’s requirements).
  • The same criteria apply for classification of seasonal workers as employees vs. independent contractors. See our blog on this topic for details.
  • Student employees may be subject to special labor laws that govern the jobs they can do and the hours they can work. Find more in our post.
  • Equal employment protections, workers compensation, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) protections apply to all employees
  • Seasonal employees must complete forms I-9 and W-4, and must be given the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Notice of Coverage and any state or local notices for new employees. Don’t forget an employee handbook, direct deposit forms and a written job description.
  • Employers have 20 days from a worker’s start date to submit new hire info to their state (less in some states).
  • Employees who work than 1,000 hours in a calendar year may be eligible for retirement benefits.
  • Employees who work for you more than 120 days count toward the 50 full time equivalent (FTE) threshold for ACA compliance. If a seasonal employee works more than 30 hours per week for a period exceeding 120 days, you may be required to offer health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
  • Workers must work more than 1,250 hours in a 12-month period to be eligible for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)FMLA protections.

Find your state’s employment laws here: https://statelaws.findlaw.com/employment-laws.html.

Wind up the season with an eye to the future

Your management tasks with seasonal workers aren’t quite done after the season’s last inning. Making time to connect with your employees on their way out is a solid strategy for building next year’s workforce.

When possible, conduct exit interviews with seasonal employees. Some teams hire hundreds of workers in the spring and summer months, so speaking to each person as they end their employment may not be realistic. However, another option is to offer a survey (on paper or online) as a way to collect feedback. This is a great way to uncover issues you were not aware of and inform next year’s staffing plans. It’s also an important tool for letting employees know they are valued.

By hosting a going-away celebration with the whole staff and team before the season ends you’ll emphasize the team spirit and culture that developed over the season while giving seasonal workers a fun send-off. Though many of your employees won’t be around in the off-season, they worked hard all summer side by side with regular employees and appreciate season’s end treat just as much.

During the off-season, try to stay in touch with employees you’d like to see return. Send a letter or email to check in, invite them back for next year and keep them informed about special events all year. Most importantly, giving them a heads-up about your hiring schedule, job fair or other employment opportunities acknowledges that you appreciate and need their hard work. Build these relationships and you’ll have loyal workers who want to return season after season.

Some seasonal workers are just looking to earn extra money or to spend time at the ballpark, or need an income during time when their regular job is on hiatus. Others, however, rely on seasonal work as a stepping stone toward their future.

Whether it’s a first step toward a career in sports or a way to gain work experience for a resume or college application, employees appreciate being recognized for a job well done. in addition to feedback on the job, consider offering to write a letter of recommendation for those who stand out.

Staffing and managing seasonal employees is a big job during the short baseball season. If onboarding, payroll, scheduling and compliance questions strain your front office resources, contact us today.  Horizon’s team of experts can be your MVP.

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Topics: seasonal, onboarding, milb