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Alternatives for Hiring Summer Help

By Catherine Gordon, JD | June 13, 2013

Before you know it, summer will officially be here, and the vast majority of us start thinking of taking time off and getting away. For small businesses with fewer employees, the absence of even one or two people can create quite a void. Still, it's important to remember the benefits of time off for all of us. Time off is good for morale and is a chance to recharge and return to work with a new vigor.

But, how do you handle the gap left by vacationing employees? Temporary workers hired through agencies can be costly and not economically feasible for many small businesses. A low-cost alternative is hiring your children or students to fill in for employees taking some time off.

Hiring Your Kids

Getting help from your children can be a great, not to mention inexpensive, way to help you get through the summer vacation season. Most child labor laws do not apply to you if you employ your own child. Obviously, they can't be put in positions that require specialized training, education or licensing that they don't have, but depending on their age and maturity level, your children could handle important tasks that keep your business running smoothly.

For example, most young people are very comfortable with and knowledgeable about technology and computers, and can perform data entry and recordkeeping tasks with ease. Answering phones, filing, photocopying, and cleaning up are other areas where they can help. An arguably greater benefit is that your children will be productively occupied and see first hand the day-to-day operations of your business. Again, depending on their age and knowledge of your business, being your employee may influence them regarding career path and whether they want to be an integral part of the family business in the future. At the very least, you may find yourself with an employee you can count on to fill in when the need arises.

Another good reason to hire your children as summer help is that you may be eligible for special tax breaks. The most obvious tax benefit is that the amounts you pay them will almost certainly be taxed at a lower rate than you pay. If they save their earnings to pay for college or other future needs, more money can be accumulated. Remember that your children must actually perform business tasks that they are qualified to do. If not, you run the risk of having their pay reclassified as "gifts" and taxed at a higher rate.

By hiring your children, you may also realize some payroll taxes savings. If you don't run your business as a corporation or partnership, you will be relieved from some FICA taxes and federal and state unemployment taxes, in some situations. Generally, you'll realize withholding and FICA tax savings for a child who works as an employee until the child reaches the age of 18, and FUTA tax savings until your child reaches the age of 21. The possible tax breaks are just another reason that hiring your children as summer help can be a winning solution.

Hiring Students Can Be a Great Summer Staffing Solution

What if you don't have any children to hire because they're too busy backpacking through Europe, or you simply don't feel that hiring your own child is a good fit? Another great resource for summer help is hiring college or high school students. Due to the economy, the available pool of young people you can hire has grown. The tax breaks available for hiring your own children won't apply, and the rules for hiring minors other than your children are stricter. There are federal wage and hour law restrictions on child labor and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) restricts the employment of children. The FLSA regulates the kind of work children can do, when they can do it, and how old they have to be to do it. Check the federal and state rules on employing minors to make sure you're in compliance, including obtaining the proper work permits for employing a minor.

Hiring a student will be even easier if the employment is in a field he or she is interested in pursuing. For example, a high school student who is considering a major in accounting or finance may jump at the chance to work in an accounting office. While the student's duties as an employee may be limited, he or she will have an opportunity to witness what someone in their prospective field actually does for a living.

In particularly competitive fields, some students may be willing to work for lower monetary pay in exchange for the hands-on experience in their chosen field that will look good on college entrance applications or resumes. High schools and colleges may also grant credit to students that spend their summer working in a business, if certain requirements are met.


Don't misclassify an employee as an unpaid intern. In a nutshell, if an internship benefits only the intern and not the person who is providing training, the intern is generally not classified as an employee. The Department of Labor emphasizes that internships in the private sector will most often be viewed as employment unless the internship meets a test of exclusion. The Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor has issued specific criteria that should be used to determine whether an intern is a trainee or employee who must be paid minimum wage and overtime if he or she provides services to a private-sector employer.

See the article, "When is an Intern an Employee?" for the requirements of an internship.

By employing a student, you get the necessary work done at a relatively lower cost, and, as with employers who hire their children, you may find a year-round part-time employee, or one who is willing to fill in during your times of need. Who knows, you may even help to mold and shape a future full-time permanent employee once the student completes school. Check with your local high school and college guidance and career offices, ask friends and relatives about their children and other relatives, or place an ad in a local paper or online.

Once you have a plan for summer hiring in place, employees taking time off won't wreak havoc on your business operations. Don't forget to include some vacation plans of your own into that schedule!

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