Seasonal employment comes with opportunities and pitfalls for North Carolina workers

Our Charlotte workers’ compensation attorneys know that with a state jobless rate of 9.6 percent, North Carolina workers are among the hardest hit in the country when it comes to dealing with sustained unemployment and stalled job creation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2009, the nine largest counties in North Carolina – responsible for more than half the total employment in the State – each saw employment drop throughout the year.

With that said, WECT-6 News in Wilmington reported that holiday retail revenue figures have topped 2010 expectations. Thanks to throngs of holiday shoppers, many business owners and shop managers are hopeful that a strong holiday shopping season will help the economy recover.
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To address the boost in consumer spending, many big-box shops are hiring on seasonal workers to stock shelves, work the floors and man registers. For many unemployed North Carolina workers, the chance for work, even short-term employment, is like a gift that came early. Conversely, given the lean North Carolina job market, some seasonal employers are doing more than just taking advantage of an eager workforce.

While short-term retail jobs are plentiful, so are short-term workforce training and management issues. For many seasonal employees there is little training beyond how to work the register and scripted selling techniques. And regardless of whether the staffer is a full-time worker or a seasonal hire, safety protocols – from how to deal with crowds to restocking shelves – often receive only cursory attention.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently nailed one San Antonio Home Depot for a host of institutionalized safety violations, garnering the shop $70,500 in penalty fees. The store was cited for shortsighted injury record-keeping and failing to provide workers with personal protective equipment after an employee sustained chemical burns earlier this year. A months-long OSHA investigation revealed that store employees lacked training on protective gear and were not properly instructed on how to clean up spills or evaluate respiratory hazards.

That it was a repeat offense for Home Depot did little to impress OSHA inspectors. “As a large, national employer with a history of OSHA inspections and citations at other facilities, we are disappointed to find so many of the same or similar hazards at this facility,” said Jeff Funke, OSHA’s area director in San Antonio. “It’s imperative that this company and all employers adhere to safety and health standards to prevent worker injuries.”

Along those same lines, in early November, OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels sent a warning letter to 14 big box retailers that encouraged shop owners to “take precautions to prevent worker injuries during the holiday…” In short, OSHA directs retailers to watch after their employees with the same care they give their bottom line.

According to the BLS, while most retail salespeople enjoy a warm, safe, well-lit, environment, the hours can be long, non-traditional (nights and weekends) and may require a lot of standing, walking and lifting. As of 2008, there were about 4.5 million people working in retail sales and another 156,500 self-employed retailers. Opportunity for part-time work is highest from Thanksgiving through the beginning of January, and more so than other types of work, the number of available retail sales jobs is directly tied to the health of the overall economy.

If you or a loved one is injured while holding a seasonal position, our Carolina injury lawyers with Lee & Smith can help. We hope that if you are involved in a serious North Carolina work accident, you will call us at 1-800-887-1965 or email our law offices to schedule a free consultation to discuss your rights.

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