By: Leah K. Sell, Esq.
October is the start of the holiday season. While this is an exciting part of the year, it is also a time ripe for workplace issues. If these situations are not properly planned for and managed, they could haunt the workplace far beyond the holiday season. Three of the issues most frequently faced by employers during the season and best practices to avoid the holiday blues are addressed below.
1. Hangovers and Harassment
A good work party can be great for morale, help with team building, foster new ideas, and even develop business. A bad work party, however, can leave employers with more than just dirty dishes. Companies may see a loss of production from ‘sick’ employees or a lawsuit, in extreme cases. Before having a workplace soirée, employers should remind employees of rules of conduct, including anti-harassment policies and behavioral expectations.
If alcohol will be served, the company should determine how it will be controlled, how employees will get home, and if an additional discussion regarding appropriate conduct is necessary. Consider alcohol alternatives and make sure Employee Assistance is available to employees who may have substance abuse illnesses.
If the event will be offsite, remind employees that they still represent the company and that workplace rules, such as those prohibiting harassment and discrimination, still apply. Remember that, as the employer, you are responsible for addressing workplace issues and matters that effect an employee’s ability to perform their job regardless of where the issues originate.
2. Black Friday Fight
Scheduling is always difficult. Employees are a company’s greatest resource but, like all resources, they are limited. It is difficult to balance coverage and control costs. This becomes even more difficult in high-demand seasons. Whether that demand comes from external sources, such as customers, internally from employee’s peak vacation requests, or both, employers must plan ahead and have policies in place.
Each year, the days before and after a holiday, like Black Friday, will be in high demand for requests off. Have policies in place that state clearly how requests for those days off will be determined; examples include seniority, first come, or rotating. While employees may be disappointed if they can’t have a day off, accusations of discrimination can be defended if there is clarity and consistency in the policy.
Holidays can also be peak times for business, especially in retail, and may require additional workers. To account for demanding seasons, some employers require a blackout in the dates employees can take off. If you are in those industries or have employees who consistently wait until the end of the year to take vacation, start planning now by sending out reminders to employees of their remaining vacation accumulation and the policies associated with scheduling.
3. Gift Giving Gaffes
For many, gift giving is synonymous with the holiday season. However, companies need to be cognizant of the many holidays that may be celebrated. Diversity and inclusion efforts should extend to the variation and timing of decorations, greetings, and gift giving for both employees and clients. Be cautious in choosing gifts to avoid stereotyping, implicit bias, or favoritism that could lead to claims of discrimination.
Employers may think that cash or gift certificates are a safer gifting route. However, cash or other monetary equivalents must be included as taxable wages. This is also true for any tangible gift of more than a de minimis value. Additionally, while most gifts are exempt from calculation in overtime rates, if the gift is at all determined by the employee’s merits or other individualized factors, then it is more akin to a bonus. These ‘gifts’ must be considered not only as wages for tax purposes but also when determining an employee’s overtime pay.
If you are looking for advice on developing policies, training, or guidance on these basic principles or more complex employment law matters, please contact Leah Sell at email@example.com or 412-261-1600. Leah is an associate at Leech Tishman and is based in the firm’s Pittsburgh, PA office. Leah is a member of the firm’s Employment, Corporate, and Litigation practice groups, as well as the Medical Cannabis and LaunchPad subgroups.
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