The last six weeks of the year include a handful of holidays for which employees clamor for time off. While some of these holidays are traditionally offered as a paid day off, no employer’s list of company holidays can possibly cover all of the days its employees might want; for some, the nature of their business requires that they remain open on popular holidays. As the holidays approach, be prepared to manage time off requests.
A time off request ...
When an employee asks to take off on a holiday that is not a company-paid holiday, the first thing you need to do is determine whether it is a religious holiday. If it is, you must explore whether granting the day off is a reasonable accommodation.
It is not reasonable if granting the day off would create an undue hardship (i.e., more than a minimal cost to the facility or minor disruption to operations). If giving the employee the day off does result in an undue hardship, explain to the employee what the specific hardship is, and then explore alternative accommodations.
Alternative accommodations include:
- Allowing the employee to take the day off unpaid.
- Allowing the employee to swap a shift/day off with a co-worker.
- Allowing the employee to work a scheduled paid holiday in exchange for their requested holiday off.
- Altering the employee’s work schedule. Sometimes the employee needs only part of the day off.
If the request for time off is to celebrate a nonreligious holiday or to take off additional days around a holiday, there is no legal obligation to honor the request.
However, for the sake of morale, try to grant the request if at all possible. Consider:
- Does the employee have the necessary time in his or her leave bank to cover the absence?
- Was his or her request timely? It’s one thing to request a holiday off two weeks in advance, it’s quite another to request it the day before.
- Is the employee’s presence essential to operations? If so, can a co-worker fill in for them?
One employee wanting one day off shouldn’t be a big deal. But what if you have multiple employees requesting the same day(s) off? A fear that production or service would be compromised if you granted all of the requests is legitimate; however, you need to make sure that that fear is based in reality, especially if the request is for a religious holiday. Remember, unless the request poses an undue hardship, you must provide a reasonable accommodation.
Don’t assume that simply because multiple employees from one department will be absent on the same day that things will come to a standstill. It’s possible that employees can complete their tasks beforehand or their daily presence isn’t truly essential.
For positions that have to be staffed to a certain degree on a daily basis, you’ll have to decide on a mechanism for determining whose request to approve and whose to deny. Avoid allegations of favoritism, or worse, discrimination, by basing decisions on seniority, “first requested, first granted,” or some other objective criteria.
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