Many employers staff up during the last quarter of the year.  The increase in the number of people out and about, shopping during the holiday season, in turn increases the necessity for employers to hire.  Despite earlier prognostications that temporary seasonal jobs would not be as plentiful as last year, the retail industry added 159,000 jobs in October. Think about it, additional security is required at the mall; additional staff is needed to stock the shelves at night; additional employees are needed to pour the coffee and lattes for the shoppers during the wee hours of the night… 

What do employers do after the Holiday rush?  With the seasonal decline in business, they typically let this staff go.  Do employers have to pay these temporary employees unemployment benefits?  The short answer is – Yes.  In most states, if an employer hires an employee directly for a temporary position and that position ends due to lack of business, the employee will be eligible to collect unemployment benefits.  The state will not take into account whether the employee “knew” the position was only for a set term or signed an agreement to that affect.  The amount of UI benefits a claimant will receive will be based upon the length of the assignment and the amount of wages paid.  In some states, if the assignment is very short, the wages the employer paid may be outside of the base period and therefore, the employer may not see any UI charges for the employee at all.

Let’s discuss other scenarios where Holiday Help may NOT be eligible for unemployment benefits.  Employee Smith has been stocking shelves in the electronics department since October.  One snowy night, in late December, when he is working alone in the video game aisle, Smith decides to steal the most popular toy of the season- Y-Box One.  At the end of his shift, he wraps the toy up in his winter coat and walks out the door.  He was not aware that his actions were caught on surveillance.  The surveillance tape even caught Smith making snow angels in the parking lot after his theft.  His manager reviews the tape and decides to terminate Smith’s employment that day.  When the manager receives the UI claim, he is FLABBERGASTED that Smith had the nerve to make a claim for benefits after he stole from the company.  This unemployment claim should be DENIED as the employer should be able to prove the claimant was separated due to deliberate misconduct.  Luckily, this company has a specific policy in their handbook, which prohibits theft and all employees, even temporary staff, sign receipts indicating they received the handbook upon hire.  The surveillance video is played at the hearing and the claimant reluctantly admits his crime.  The employer’s account should not be charged for benefits in this situation.

Employee Betty was so happy to get a job at the local coffee shop franchise for the holiday season.  She really wanted the job in order to get the employee discount so she could give coffee mug gift sets to her friends and family.  Betty had no customer service experience and soon became sick and tired of waiting on customers week after week.  This one customer in particular, drove her mad.  The customer came in every Friday, just as she was closing the store and getting ready to go home.  He would always place a large order, including a Double Large Espresso with Skim Milk, just after she cleaned the machine.  On the Friday before Christmas, Betty told a co-worker she hated him and was going to throw the Espresso in his face.  Two minutes later, she did.  The customer reported the incident to her Manager and Betty was let go on the spot.  The coffee shop protested Betty’s unemployment claim.  During the hearing Betty alleged she spilled the coffee on the customer accidently, but the Manager brought along the co-worker who testified that Betty intentionally harmed the customer because she told her of her plans moments before.  The state denied Betty’s unemployment claim because the employer had first hand testimony establishing the claimant’s deliberate misconduct.

While some Holiday Help will be eligible for UI benefits, when misconduct is involved, claims should be protested and benefits may be denied.