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BusinessColumnistsJamie Herzlich

Small Business: Hiring help for the holiday season

People walk through the doors of Bloomingdale's at

People walk through the doors of Bloomingdale's at Walt Whitman Shops in Huntington Station for some Black Friday shopping on Nov. 28, 2014. Credit: Steve Pfost

Many retailers have already started gearing up for holiday hiring, and if you haven't, you risk falling behind.

When it comes to hiring seasonal help, you don't want to take shortcuts in screening candidates, because temporary workers can be just as critical to your business as your permanent hires.

"Don't let that holiday rush make you rush your seasonal hiring," advises Joanie Courtney, a senior vice president of Monster Worldwide. "It could be a costly mistake."

Many businesses are coming into what could be their busiest time of the year, and hiring the wrong help could send a bad message to customers, she notes. "Creating a good customer experience is extremely important," says Courtney.

Make a wide search. With that good experience in mind, cast a wide net to find the best candidates you can -- using advertisements and job boards, asking for referrals and tapping your social networks -- she suggests.

Look back too. You may even reach out to past seasonal hires.

That's what East Hampton-based Honest Man Restaurant Group does for its catering company and five restaurants, including Nick and Toni's and Rowdy Hall in East Hampton, says executive chef Joe Realmuto.

They try to keep much of the staff year-round but add up to 5 percent more workers for the holidays, he notes, often calling on past summer employees to come back to work.

"They know the system already," explains Realmuto. "We know they are capable."

Ask current staff. You can also ask employees if they are aware of any good candidates.

"You should use all the resources you have at hand," says Dina DeDonato, president of Solution Staffers Inc. in East Setauket. Just be honest with everyone about the scope and time frame of the job, she says.

Be clear on commitment. Convey what you require and what your expectations are, adds Courtney. For example, if you need them to work on Christmas Eve or Day, make sure they give you a promise for those days before you hire them, she says.

Follow usual rules. If they look like a good fit, do all of the regular due diligence you would for a permanent hire, advises DeDonato. "They can do just as much damage to your company as anyone else," she says.

So if you do background checks on your full-time staff, you should consider doing it on your seasonal staff, says Doug Rowe, a partner in the labor and employment practice group at Certilman Balin Adler & Hyman LLP in East Meadow.

The same goes for requiring staff to sign other important documents like confidentiality agreements, he notes.

Seasonal workers "should be treated like any other employee," says Rowe, noting this includes being mindful of their protections under anti-discrimination and wage and overtime laws.

Classify them correctly. "I think the biggest misconception that employers may have is that temporary or seasonal employees can be classified as independent contractors because they are not permanent employees," says Rowe, noting that independent contractors are not entitled to the same benefits and protections as an employee.

"If they look like employees and feel like employees, then they're employees," he says.

Training's a must. All employees should be given adequate help so they can succeed in their positions, says DeDonato.

Honest Man Restaurant Group says it does that by putting in the time to train new staff members and provide support even if they are just seasonal.

"We try to pay as close attention as possible to them," says Realmuto. "If they are working a station, they are just as important to us as our other employees."

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