Employers are often faced with additional responsibilities during the holiday season, such as juggling time-off requests, overseeing holiday pay, and planning holiday parties. The following are guidelines to help you manage your workforce during the holiday season.
#1: Managing time-off requests
The holidays are a popular time for employees to request time off. Employers generally have the right to control how much vacation employees take at a time and how many employees are out on vacation at any one time. Here are some examples of practices employers may use to help manage vacation requests:
- Early deadline. Consider requiring all holiday vacation requests be submitted by a certain date. Choose a reasonable deadline based on your business needs.
- Restricted-use periods. Employers may set a limit on the amount of vacation that can be taken at any one time.
- Block-out times. Some employers implement block-out times during which vacations are off limits. This can help employers meet demands during peak business times.
- Incentives. Employers may provide incentives for employees to take time off during less desirable times of the year. For example, some employers provide an extra day of vacation or offer premium pay for working during peak vacation periods.
Even if you don’t adopt a formal strategy, your policy should still make clear that vacations may be restricted, if necessary, based on scheduling and business needs. Your policy should provide guidance on how requests will be granted when demand is high (such as, being based on seniority, first-come first-served, or through a lottery method.)
Under federal law, employers with 15 or more employees are generally required to provide reasonable accommodations for employees' sincerely held religious beliefs and practices, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship (defined as substantial increased costs). This may include providing unpaid time off. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's Compliance Manual suggests best practices for providing religious accommodations, such as facilitating voluntary shift swaps and permitting flexible scheduling.
Note: State laws may require employers with fewer employees to provide religious accommodations under certain circumstances. Check your state law to ensure compliance.
#2: Holiday pay
Unless you are required by contract or agreement, private employers are generally not required to provide paid holidays to nonexempt employees (those entitled to minimum wage and overtime). However, if your company closes for a holiday, employees classified as exempt from overtime (those who meet specific salary and duties requirements) must generally still receive their full pay, as long as they work any part of the workweek.
Under federal law, there's generally no requirement to pay nonexempt employees a premium for working on a holiday, unless it results in the employee working more than 40 hours in the workweek.
However, there are exceptions in some states where employers may be required to provide premium pay regardless of how many hours the employee worked. For example, in Rhode Island, unless the employer is exempt, nonexempt employees must be paid 1.5 times their regular rate of pay for any work performed on a covered holiday (or Sundays).
Factors to consider
When determining how you will treat holidays, consider applicable laws, your company's resources, business needs, and practices from previous years.
Measures to control absenteeism
During the holiday season, some employers see an increase in the number of employees calling in sick, particularly before and after a company holiday. To help reduce unnecessary absences, some employers require nonexempt employees to work the day before and after a company holiday to receive holiday pay, unless they have scheduled the time off in advance. Employers may not apply such a policy to exempt employees. However, these employers should also consider the extent to which such a policy could undermine efforts to encourage workers to stay home when sick to help prevent the spread of illness to co-workers. Instead, many employers focus on efforts to keep employees engaged, such as ensuring reasonable workloads, providing development opportunities, allowing flexible work arrangements, and offering generous vacation time that employees can plan in advance.
Managing absences due to illnesses
The flu and other viruses can also cause more unplanned absences this time of year. Consider the following steps to help protect the health of your employees:
- Develop a plan to control the spread of the flu in the workplace and monitor flu activity in the community.
- Provide tissues, no-touch trash cans, hand soap and sanitizer, and disposable towels.
- Encourage respiratory etiquette by providing education and reminders about covering coughs and sneezes.
- Encourage workers to get a flu shot. Consider hosting a flu shot clinic or informing employees where they can get the flu shot in their community. Most employees with health insurance should be able to get a flu shot at no cost. Encourage employees to stay home from work if they have the flu or another virus.
#4: Holiday parties
If you plan on hosting a holiday party, consider the following:
Check with your insurance provider to determine what your coverage and liabilities may be during the party. For example, if an employee is injured during a company-sponsored event, they may be covered under your workers' compensation plan. Such coverage may depend on a variety of factors, including when and where the injury occurred.
If you plan to host the party during work hours, employees will likely be entitled to pay for time spent at the party. Likewise, if attendance is mandatory regardless of where and when the party takes place, such time may also be considered hours worked. Generally, attendance should be voluntary, and employees should not be pressured to attend or disciplined for failing to attend.
Considerations for serving alcohol
Prior to the party, consider consulting legal counsel regarding the potential liability for serving alcohol at company events. If you prohibit alcohol, remind supervisors and employees well in advance of the party. If alcoholic beverages will be served, limit intake and ensure there is plenty of food as well as non-alcoholic beverages available.
Reinforcing code of conduct and expectations
Prior to the event, remind employees that they must act responsibly and that you will enforce workplace rules, such as dress codes and anti-harassment policies, regardless of whether the party is held during work hours or on company premises. Executives and supervisors who attend the party should monitor the event and enforce company rules on a consistent basis.
#5: Inclement weather
To prepare for inclement weather and weather emergencies, consider the following guidelines:
It is a best practice for employers to have a written policy that addresses emergency closings. This policy should inform employees of the company's closing procedures, including how employees will be notified of a closing. It may also address pay issues related to company closures (see below). Remind employees of your emergency closing policy before winter arrives.
Generally, whether an employee must be paid for closures for inclement weather depends on their status as an exempt or nonexempt employee.
If nonexempt employees miss work because of inclement weather (either because the company is closed or because they are unable to make it to the business location), there is generally no requirement to pay them, regardless of the duration of the absence. However, some employers choose to voluntarily pay nonexempt employees if the business is closed due to inclement weather.
If a nonexempt employee reports to work, they must be paid for the time they actually work, in addition to any time they are required to stay until a decision about closing is made. There is no federal requirement for employers to pay nonexempt employees a minimum number of hours if they report to work when there is no work available due to weather or related circumstances. However, some jurisdictions, such as the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, and New York have report-in pay requirements. Employers should check their applicable state laws to ensure compliance.
Exempt employees must generally receive their full salary in any workweek in which they perform any work regardless of the number of hours worked. If the business location closes because of inclement weather for less than a full workweek, the employer must generally pay an exempt employee their full salary, as long as the employee worked any part of the workweek.
If the company remains open during inclement weather and exempt employees fail to report to work, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) permits employers to make salary deductions for absences of one or more full days, as long as the absence is for personal reasons other than sickness or disability. However, deductions from an exempt employee's pay for partial-day absences are prohibited.
To help manage your obligations during the holidays, plan ahead and have clear policies and procedures in place.