How To Create An Inclusive Company Holiday Policy

You can’t give everyone time off for every single holiday, so here’s a guide for how to develop a practical company holiday policy that remains inclusive.

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As colder weather sets in, your mind is probably turning to the upcoming holiday season – Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years… and the paid time off they typically bring, right? But, what about holidays that aren’t as high profile in the United States? Because employer-given holidays in America typically line up with our federal holidays, holidays celebrated by certain cultures, backgrounds, and shared experiences (non-Christian religions, international holidays, veterans, etc.) tend to be ignored.

However, with Veterans Day and Diwali approaching (both are on November 11th), it might be time to consider your company’s paid holiday policy. We understand that you can’t give everyone time off for every single holiday, so we’ve come up with a guide for how to develop a practical company holiday policy that remains inclusive:

Laws Regarding Holidays

There are no federal or state laws mandating that employers give their employees paid holidays off. And although it is customary to pay employees time and a half if they work on a holiday, this is also not required by law.

The Exceptions

  • Religious Accommodation: According to The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), employers with 15 or more employees must give reasonable accommodations for employees’ religious observances. This can include taking time off to observe a religious holiday.
  • Veterans Day: There is no federal law that says you must give Veterans Day off, even if your employees are veterans. However, Oregon recently passed a law that all veterans must be given the holiday off, as long as their absence won’t cause significant undue hardship.

“Floater” Holiday Policy

Despite no law requiring it, you may (ok, should) choose a policy that gives employees time off for the occasions that are important to them. So, instead of just focusing on the major federal holidays, try adopting a “floater” policy. Each employee, in addition to the holidays established company-wide, would be given one or two “floater” holidays which they could use for a day they deem important (Chinese New Year, Diwali, birthdays, etc.). This way everyone, even non-religious employees, gets the opportunity to celebrate something they value, and it shows that you respect what’s important to them.

All’s Fair

We understand that it might not always be reasonable to give time to all employees who request a certain day off. For example, if you are a 75-person company and 25 of your employees ask to take Diwali off, your business productivity could suffer. So, it’s important to establish a method of choosing who receives time that could not be considered discriminatory in any way. Perhaps select who gets time off based on seniority, or pull names from a hat. Whatever you do, make sure you base your decision off something neutral.

Celebrate In-Office

If you can’t give your employees the day off, or simply want to show you appreciate how important the day is to them, you can hold an in-office celebration. Take Diwali, for example. You can encourage your employees who celebrate the holiday (as long as they’re willing, of course), to teach their coworkers about Diwali and bring in food, decorations, and/or music to celebrate. For Veterans Day, you could have your employees participate in a program to give back to Veterans – LinkedIn, for instance, has its employees help veterans revamp their resumes. By celebrating in the office, you’re giving your employees the chance not only to enjoy the day for themselves, but to spread festivity and knowledge to their colleagues.

Final Considerations

While there are no laws governing when and how you should give employees holidays, consider how it affects morale. You want to show your workers that you respect them all equally – so if you don’t desperately need an employee in the office on a particular holiday, or even a day that’s important to them (non-religious folks have special occasions, too!), give them the time off. It will let your employees know you value them as a person, not just a worker.

This post was originally published on November 8, 2015.

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