Ho, Ho, No! … HR’s Top 4 Holiday Risks, and How to Prevent Them — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily
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Ho, Ho, No! … HR’s Top 4 Holiday Risks, and How to Prevent Them

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For HR, it's most definitely NOT the most wonderful time of the year.

The period between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day typically finds employees distracted, absent or doing things that require extra management scrutiny. For HR, that means more hassles, more drama and more legal concerns.

You can head off those problems by planning for these additional risks and clarifying (or creating) smart HR policies. Four issues to watch out for:

1. Full hearts, empty desks

One-third of employers report that their employees call in sick more often during the winter holidays, according to a CareerBuilder.com survey. Sure, cold and flu season is in full swing, but 29% of employees admit to using sick days to take care of holiday shopping, run errands or visit with family. And one in five employees will call in sick the day after the office party.

Another holiday scheduling risk: Requiring employees to work on certain days could spark a religious discrimination complaint. Federal law says you must make a reasonable effort to accommodate "sincere” religious belief and give them time off for religious observances.

For advice, read our HR Specialist article, "Holiday Scheduling: 7 Tips to Keep the Peace."

2. Holiday pay: Three wise rules

Paid holidays are customary for many employers, but federal law does not require payment for time not worked, such as vacations or holidays. Here's a trio of rules to follow on holiday pay:

Rule #1: Because holiday pay isn't mandated, this gives you a lot of latitude. For example, you can pay nonexempts for eight holiday hours, even if they customarily work 10-hour days.

Rule #2: If you do pay for holidays, and employees work overtime that week, don't factor the holiday pay into their regular rates as you figure their overtime rates.

Rule #3: Exempt employees don't need to be paid if they don't work for a whole week. Thus, if you shut down for the entire week between Christmas and New Year's, you needn't pay exempts anything. They may use vacation or other accrued time, if they have it.

Find advice on handling tricky holiday payroll issues at www.theHRSpecialist.com/holidaypay.

3. Working … or shopping?

Dec. 2 is Cyber Monday. Some reports estimate that, during the holidays, employees will spend an average of three hours per week shopping online while they're supposed to be working. Do employees know your organization's policy on whether—and how much—they're allowed to use company technology for personal business?

A survey this week by Robert Half Technology asked chief information officers (CIOs) "What is your company's policy regarding employees shopping online while at work?” Their responses:

  • 29%   Block access to online shopping sites
  • 54%   Allow access but monitor for excessive use
  • 16%   Allow unrestricted access

Advice: Regularly remind employees of your policies on computer and social media usages. Decide how closely you want to keep an eye on workers. Your IT team can put the kibosh on the practice by blocking access to certain sites, but a better tactic is to monitor employees' computer usage … and let them know you're doing it.

4. Not-so-silent night: Holiday parties gone bad

The image of the drunk, obnoxious employee at the workplace party may be a cliché, but it's sadly realistic in too many cases. Here are some tips to strike a balance between good cheer and good policy:

  • Make absolutely clear that attendance is optional. Keep the party purely social—no employee award announcements. (If attendance is stated or implied, you may be subject to workers' comp liability for any injuries suffered.)
  •  Invite families. People tend to behave more responsibly in a family setting.
  • Send a reminder beforehand that your professional-conduct policies apply during the party.
  • Consider an alcohol-free party. If you do serve alcohol, serve beer and wine instead of liquor. Daytime parties also tend to discourage drinking. Issue tickets rather than holding an open bar. Serve food. Provide transportation.
  • Treat complaints arising out of the party just as you would any other workplace complaints.


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