Effectively Managing Seasonal Workers in the Agricultural Sector

4 minutes reading time

Effective recruitment is paramount in the labour-intensive agricultural sector, and finding enough manpower in busy seasons can be difficult. That outward focus can often mean that the job of effectively managing existing seasonal workers is deprioritised.

In this article, our Employment Law experts set out their top four tips for establishing good working practices when hiring seasonal workers.

Typically, seasonal workers are employed on a casual and short-term basis. Sometimes these employment relationships are formed largely on trust in an informal working environment, and the agreed terms are sometimes not written down.

However, if written agreements are not kept, and seasonal workers are not managed correctly, avoidable legal disputes can arise and create unwanted and unexpected liabilities for an employer. Our tips below can help agricultural employers mitigate that risk.

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Effectively managing seasonal workers in the agricultural sector v2

The Importance of the Employment Contract

The agreed terms of the employment relationship must be recorded in writing and signed by both parties. This avoids any uncertainty in the future around what terms were agreed with the worker.

The preferred employment status of the individual is an important consideration for the employer before terms are agreed in writing. There are three types of employment status: workers, employees and the self-employed.


If engaged as a worker, their workload is normally more casual. They must do the work themselves if they agree to a work request, but a worker can refuse work and are typically not given any guarantee of regular work by their employer.

Workers receive some employment rights (but have fewer than employees), including but not limited to the right to receive their terms of employment in writing, the National Minimum Wage, paid holiday, the right to written payslips, whistleblower protections, discrimination protections, and protections from being treated unfavourably for working part-time.

Workers may also be entitled to statutory payments for sickness and family leave.


If an individual is to be treated as an employee, the employer enjoys greater control over the workload and how work is completed. The employee will normally also be required to work regularly and not refuse the work. In return for that greater control and certainty on the employer’s part, employees will enjoy more employment rights than other types of employment status.

In addition to workers’ rights, they are entitled (including but not limited) to statutory minimum notice periods, various forms of parental leave and, after two years of continuous employment, the right to redundancy pay and unfair dismissal protections.


If an individual is engaged as a self-employed contractor, they will be responsible for when, where and how they work. In place of a wage, they would invoice the company, and they are normally free to substitute the work out to someone else to complete and to complete work for other businesses.

The self-employed do not have the same rights as employees or workers but have access to some rights, including the right to protection for health and safety on their client’s premises and protection against discrimination.

Seasonal workers are often engaged in the following ways:

  • On a fixed-term contract that ends on a specific date or upon completion of a specific project or piece of work.
  • On a part-time basis to complement the existing staff.
  • On a zero-hours contract where the levels of work on offer will be changeable and unclear, flexibility is required.

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Record any Service Occupancy Arrangements in Writing

Accommodation arrangements often arise in farming employment relationships, and it is a good idea to make reference to any service occupancy or separate licence to occupy within the employment contract.

A service occupancy will arise where it is required for a worker to live at their employer’s property in order to complete their duties. This will create a personal licence to occupy the premises in question for the extent of their engagement. It is very important to record such arrangements in writing to avoid any disputes and uncertainties when the employment relationship ends, to ensure that repossession of the property can be obtained if necessary.

We strongly suggest that both property law and employment law advice is sought where workers are being given accommodation to ensure that the arrangements are clearly understood by both parties and the employer’s property rights are protected.

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Record any service occupancy arrangements in writing

Don’t Forget about the Working Time Regulations

Farm work and the rise and fall of seasonal labour demands in agriculture can result in employers needing workers to complete intensive hours.

The Working Time Regulations state that employees and workers must not work longer than a 48-hour working week on average (calculated over a 17-week reference period). Therefore, where there is a risk of this being exceeded, employers should ensure that staff have signed a written opt-out from this rule.

Other rights include a 20-minute rest break (if working for more than six hours in a day) and an 11-hour rest between different shifts.

In addition, employees and workers are entitled to receive 5.6 weeks of paid holiday per year. Employers also have obligations to facilitate the taking of this holiday. However, if certain rules are followed, employers can require this holiday to be taken in specific periods.

Therefore, an employer could make clear to employees when holidays are and are not allowed to be taken to ensure a suitable supply of employees during peak seasonal periods. This should demonstrate to employees that a transparent and fair system is in place to help them take a break around the seasonal demands of the business.

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Dont forget about the Working Time Regulations

Staff Handbooks

Having a staff handbook that sets out the fair process that the employer will follow in situations such as disciplinaries and grievances can be invaluable.

An employer has the flexibility to introduce policies on all manner of useful topics. In an agricultural context, that might include procedures on how to use certain machines, uniform and equipment policies, health and safety guides and first aid instructions, as well as accident reporting guidelines.

Formal policies such as this allow employers to hold employees accountable if processes are not followed.

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Staff Handbooks

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If you would like any assistance in respect of this blog, please contact our specialist Agricultural Solicitors below. 

0161 941 4000