Holiday Policies that Serve the Needs of Employers, Employees

By Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR Nov 30, 2011
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“Black Friday”—the day after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday in November—is regarded as one of the most popular holiday shopping days for consumers and retailers alike. In 2011, however, an employee’s online complaint about his company’s extra-early opening turned the day into an HR dilemma.

In his petition, Anthony Hardwick, a Target employee in Omaha, Neb., said: “A midnight opening robs the hourly and in-store salary workers of time off with their families on Thanksgiving Day” because they would need to spend part of the holiday sleeping to be ready for the planned all-nighter.

Yet in spite of calls to boycott Target and other retailers on Black Friday, consumers turned out in record numbers, according to retail industry figures. In a statement released Nov. 25, 2011, Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation, said, “Early morning openings appear to have been well worth it for both retailers and holiday shoppers, with many Americans believing that deals were too good to pass up regardless of who they were shopping for—themselves or others.”

Striking a Balance

Establishing a holiday policy that balances the needs and wishes of employees with the demands of the business can be tricky. Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Knowledge Advisors say they receive regular queries from SHRM members about various holiday policy-related issues including questions about how to compensate employees who work on holidays and how to handle holidays in continuous operation environments such as manufacturing.

Though business needs must come first and might change throughout the year, one of the most common ways to set employee expectations is to publish a list, at least annually, of holidays and dates for which the company will shut down, close early or offer special incentives for those who are required to work.

Organizations often turn to various sources of data for comparative practices before setting their holiday schedule.

For example, in 2012, most U.S. employers plan to observe the federal holidays of New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day by closing their workplaces, according to a poll of 481 randomly selected HR professionals surveyed by SHRM from Oct. 12, to Nov. 4, 2011.

Few employers reported any change in holiday practices for 2012.

In addition to the six most popular holidays, some U.S.-based employers plan to close for a few additional days:

  • Thirty-three percent plan to close for Martin Luther King’s birthday in January.
  • Thirty-six percent of respondents said they will close for Presidents’ Day in February.
  • Sixteen percent will observe Columbus Day in October.
  • Twenty percent will close to observe Veterans’ Day in November.

When it comes to religious holidays, Christmas Day remains the clear favorite, observed by 99 percent of respondents, for common-sense reasons rather than as a result of religious preference, in most cases. Yet Good Friday, another Christian observance, is an official holiday for 25 percent of respondents, while 5 percent plan to close early that day. Many school systems time their spring breaks around the Christian Good Friday and Easter holidays, making this another practical choice of time off for those who employ parents of school-age children.

The SHRM poll found that few U.S. employers include on their official schedules the holidays celebrated by Jewish and Muslim employees.

In addition to reviewing national holiday polls, such as the one released by SHRM, employers might want to review:

  • State and local holiday schedules, usually accessible through the state department of labor as well as city and county websites.
  • Local school schedules for public and private schools in the areas in which a business operates.
  • Industry practices, often available through industry trade groups.
  • Employee needs, based on known religious practices.
  • Employee expectations, based on written policy and practices used by the company.

Deciding on an appropriate holiday strategy for an organization will depend on the nature of the business, first and foremost, because those organizations that provide round-the-clock service or critical care, such as hospitals and nursing homes, will have different needs than organizations such as banks and other firms accustomed to changing work hours to accommodate holidays.

Moreover, the more diverse an organizations’ employees or community, the more likely it is that the company will need to have flexible holiday policies to accommodate employee religious practices or school breaks.

Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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