A guide to holiday employment, pay and discrimination

Put your mind at ease this Holiday season with the answers to the top five most commonly asked seasonal legal questions.

If my business is open on Christmas Day, do I have to give an employee Christmas Day off if they request it?

No. However, if the employee is requesting the day off for religious reasons (“a religious accommodation”) you may have to determine how your business can still run without that employee for the day. If there is a way you can “reasonably accommodate” it so the employee may observe their religious practices, you legally should make that happen.

Depending on how difficult it is for your business, you may need to allow the employee to take the day or a half-day off. If you offer paid holidays, you may need to consider allowing the employee to trade another paid day off for the religious holiday they are requesting. Each decision, however, is specific to your business. You are not required to provide an unreasonably difficult accommodation.

Do I have to provide employees with pay if they don’t work on the holiday?

No. Federal law does not require that you pay employees for taking the day off on a holiday.

What is premium holiday pay, and am I required to pay it?

Some businesses pay employees who work on a holiday a premium rate. This rate is typically, 1.5 times the hourly wage for hours worked on a holiday. There is no Federal legal requirement to pay a premium rate to employees who work on the holidays.

Homebase recently released a holiday pay feature so you can determine the holiday rate and then pay employees your desired holiday wage, without having to manually edit any timesheets.

If I pay my employees for time off on Christmas Day, does that impact over-time calculations?

No. You are not required to count hours paid for time off as time worked for purposes of overtime. Under Federal Law, if your employee earns 48 hours of paid time but 8 of those hours were pay for time-off, there is no over-time worked.

Is it religious discrimination to close for Christmas Day and not other religious holidays?

No. Generally speaking, employers may observe religious holidays. If an employee objects, the employer must consider a reasonable way to accommodate that employee’s religious needs in return.

Christmas Day is commonly observed for non-religious reasons. Most businesses in the US are closed on Christmas Day, including the Federal Government, making it a convenient business choice for a Holiday.

Is it religious discrimination to have a Christmas Party instead of a Holiday Party?

No. Employers may generally observe their religious beliefs in the workplace provided that should an employee object for religious reasons, the employer will need to consider an accommodation. Keep in mind that businesses frequently have employees with different religious beliefs. Many businesses opt for language like “Holiday” as opposed to “Christmas” so that all employees or customers feel welcome. Inclusivity is very much part of the holiday spirit.

Do I have to close my business or allow employees to stay home if there are reports of ice or snow?

No. You may keep your business open in the case of inclement weather. But it’s important to consider the safety of your employees and the likely business you’ll do on a day when foot traffic might be depressed.

In advance, create a gameplan so you know how to handle an icy or snowy day. Consider in advance categories for employees that must report to work and positions that may be more flexible during severe weather emergencies. Ensure that you have current phone numbers and emergency contacts in case you are unable to reach an employee. Communicate to your employees in advance when and how you will contact them with updates about schedules or business closings. And on the day of, be sure that you can get a message out quickly by using Homebase’s team communication tools, for example. These few steps planned in advance of a storm make decisions easier should the weatherman’s warnings prove true.

Our Guiding Holiday Advice

Keep in mind that just because it’s legal does not necessarily mean it is good management. It’s critical to keep employees motivated, working hard, and excited about their job. They need to feel like their employer respects them and their religious beliefs. Therefore, employers may do best to go above the legal minimum requirement. (This is not legal advice and businesses should always check local laws and review these decisions with legal counsel.)

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