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Holiday Season

November 8, 2016

Ready or not, the holiday season is upon us.

Those words often conjure up warm, cheerful thoughts of family customs, twinkling lights, gift-giving, snowflakes, and the aroma of a freshly-baked pie. However, for the unwary employer or employee, they can also conjure up potential legal issues in the labor and employment context.

Here are a few tidbits to keep in mind in the workplace throughout this holiday season:

  • Holiday Parties: Frequently, employers host holiday parties for employees as a showing of appreciation for hard work. However, employers are wise to be mindful of what constitutes “compensable time” with respect to non-exempt employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act.[1] To mandate employee participation in a holiday party might trigger obligations to comply with wage laws, which is why many employers inform employees that their attendance at a work-sponsored holiday event is voluntary.
  • Religious Accommodations: Some religions recognize certain traditions or observances that may call for time away from work, dress code modifications, or other flexibility. Employers are legally required to make reasonable accommodations for their employee’s religious beliefs unless doing so would cause an “undue hardship” on the business, the question of what constitutes undue hardship being a factual inquiry.[2]
  • Holiday Pay: While many companies offer certain benefits such as paid holidays, sick days, and vacation time, there is no federal law compelling them to do so.  New York’s Labor Law leaves it to each company to make individual determinations on these issues, but it does require employers to apprise employees of their specific sick leave pay, vacation pay, personal time pay, and holiday pay policies.[3]
  • Decorations: Decorations can enhance a workplace by adding extra cheer and character, especially during holidays. Employers should be aware that prohibiting employees from religious expression vis-à-vis adornments in their personal office spaces may spark religious discrimination claims. As for common areas, employers might consider neutral holiday decorations so as not to give the impression of favoritism.

When in doubt, employers and employees are wise to consult with an attorney regarding labor and employment-related issues, questions, or concerns.

Happy Holidays!

[1] 29 U.S. Code § 201 (“Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938”, June 25, 1938, ch. 676, § 1, 52 Stat. 1060).

[2] N.Y. Exec. Law § 290 (“New York State Human Rights Law”).

[3] New York Labor Law § 195(5).