How to Juggle Employee Vacations During the Holidays

Some employers know employees will want the day after Thanksgiving off, and shut their offices accordingly. Some California employers, especially those in Silicon Valley, shut down the entire week between Christmas and New Year’s. But not all employers can afford to be so generous. How should an employer approve vacation days while still ensuring the business is sufficiently staffed?

Taking vacation days for any purpose is subject to scheduling approval by the employer. The best way to handle the situation is to encourage employees to request time off well in advance, and allocate time off on a first-come, first-served basis (rather than, say, seniority).

This holds true for secular and religious holidays. While some of us may feel entitled to take time off for religious or secular holidays, the time off is treated as any vacation time if not otherwise designated as a paid holiday by the employer. For example, employees can elect to use vacation days to take time off for the Jewish High Holy days or Christianity’s Good Friday. If the business can function, it is in the employer’s interest to accommodate such requests. However, the employer is not legally obligated to give certain days off, including religious holidays.

That said, employers with 15 or more employees must make reasonable accommodations for employees’ religious observances under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Therefore, if covered employers can reasonably accommodate the employee’s request, they must. Some state anti-discrimination laws may cover even smaller employers.

If employers need part or all of their workforce to work on a federal holiday, it may. There is no law mandating extra pay for holiday work, only for work in excess of a 40-hour workweek. Employers are also not required to give employees paid holidays.

It is best to spell all this out clearly in the employee handbook, so that there are no surprises for manager, supervisors, or employees.  A well-drafted easy to understand vacation policy can circumvent issues from arising among the workforce.