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Hiring in the Time of COVID-19

An edited version of this article appeared in the summer issue of Benefiting YOU

For many, harvest marks one of the busiest times of the year, and with it, the need to hire temporary labor. Before hiring seasonal workers, it is critical to consider what that new hire process looks like while navigating the myriad of required and recommended government agency practices relative to COVID-19.

Now is the time to develop a system for hiring, if one is not already in place. Clearly define who is responsible for each aspect of recruitment, from responding to inquiries about available jobs to conducting new hire orientation. For each of these, consider how to implement required social distancing of at least six feet, as well as how to provide both current and prospective employees appropriate personal protective equipment and easy access to handwashing facilities or hand sanitizer. Many ag operations now keep their main office closed to the public, providing a phone number for employment inquiries. Some have made their job applications available online, and others have placed them in easy to access locations outside their office.

It is essential to clearly outline the appropriate steps to take and to communicate the new hire process to all employees. Word-of-mouth referrals are often the best source of potential hires, and current workers must understand the process.

Important points to consider when hiring in the field

  • Clearly label space to ensure prospective employees maintain at least six feet of social distancing.
  • Sanitize common equipment taken into the field for administrative staff and supervisors, such as tables, chairs, and clipboards (and sanitize after each use).
  • Provide all prospective workers PPE, including masks and hand sanitizer.
  • Provide individual pens.
  • Conduct confidential COVID-19 screening of all applicants and forbidding individuals exhibiting at least two signs or symptoms from staying the day.

These additional efforts will ultimately result in the need for more time to screen prospective employees, complete their paperwork and conduct their new hire orientation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends small gatherings, and as of May 26, Cal/OSHA suggests ag employers limit their crew size. Employers are now working with smaller groups of employees in all aspects of their jobs, including onboarding.

It is also essential to reach out to third-party vendors, such as clinics or drug screening services, to determine how their protocol has changed. It may be helpful to work with multiple vendors to ensure their limitations on the number of individuals served does not slow this segment of the hiring process. Allow for more response time when conducting reference checks. With more individuals working from home, there is a delay for some in retrieving office voicemails.

The continued safety and health of our workers, as well as prospective employees, is paramount, and employers must consider the unique circumstances now impacting our industry.

For more information about worker safety, human resources, labor relations, pesticide safety or food safety issues, please visit, call 209.526.4400 or email


Amy Wolfe, MPPA, CFRE is the president and CEO Emeritus of AgSafe