Navigating the Holidays

Now that fall is here, we all know what is next: the holidays. And while the holidays are supposed to be a time of fun and good cheer, they can also bring stress and anxiety. As an employer, there are a lot of things you should consider.

Religious holidays of different faiths: From October through December there are holidays for at least 14 different faiths as well as cultural, federally-recognized, and sports- and shopping-related holidays. While these holidays have different levels of importance to their respective adherents, being open and understanding about their meaning to your employees is essential. While some like to say, “Merry Christmas,” others embrace “Happy Holidays.” Neither is wrong – in fact supporting differing views in the workplace is entirely the point.

Busy season: If your company has year-end responsibilities such as meeting client demand, inventory, closing out the books for the year, etc., make sure your employees are aware of their obligations in advance so they can plan accordingly. Consider scheduling celebrations after the season is over.

Holiday parties: There are many holiday party options depending on your size, budget, and employee interest. Some companies host big, fancy parties with dinner and dancing. Other companies choose themes such as casino night (please – no real gambling!), masquerade ball, or holidays around the world. Whatever you do, make sure everyone feels invited and included, regardless of faith or interest.

Alternatives to standard party: A big party may not fit into the plans for various reasons – participation, budget, employee or company struggles, etc. If so, you can consider alternatives such as a company luncheon or potluck meal or a family-inclusive function. Maybe allow employees to have the rest of the day off with pay as an extra perk. Sometimes just hosting employees in a small gathering will meet the objectives of letting employees socialize and saying “thank you” for their dedication.

Alcohol or no alcohol: Regardless of when hosted, if a company offers alcohol at a company function, there is liability to consider. If an employee drinks too much and is injured, it could have Workers’ Comp implications. Worse, if an employee gets into an accident while driving home after a function, the company may be liable for injuries and damages if related to alcohol served. If social drinking is part of the culture, consider limiting the number of drinks and strength of alcohol served and have other transportation options such as designated drivers or ride-share services available to get everyone home safely.

Gift exchanges: If you arrange or allow employee gift exchanges, be sure that rules are established and followed: everyone should be invited but not required to participate; the price should be reasonable; gifts must not violate harassment or discrimination policies; and any procedures for the exchange itself are clearly established beforehand (i.e., trades, “do-overs”, picking order, etc.).

Year-end bonuses / gifts: If your company gives employees year-end bonuses or gifts at the holidays or year-end, be sure that proper tax rules are followed. Non-discretionary bonuses (those paid routinely or are required to be given if certain criteria are met) usually must be taxed and calculated into overtime regardless of the form. Discretionary bonuses (those given purely by choice) may not need to be taxed. Sometimes small or non-monetary gifts may be excluded from tax calculations but consult your accountant beforehand so employees know what to expect.

Vacations / time off: The holiday season means a lot of employees want to take time off to spend with their families, travel, or both. School-aged children have long vacations, college-aged and grown children come back home, and families travel to other destinations. Some companies close the week between Christmas and New Year’s due to low demand, but most need to keep enough staff to cover customer needs and production demands. If you are in the latter group consider the following:

  • If you need coverage during all holidays, alternate who takes which holidays off. Perhaps have employees list their order of preference to come up with a fair system.
  • Do not rely on seniority or “first-come, first-serve” methods to determine who gets time off around the holidays. Consider who had a holiday off previously or include performance into the equation.
  • Do not penalize single employees in favor of those with children. While employees who are parents may have additional reasons to want time off during the holiday, that does not mean that single and/or childless employees should be penalized for not having a family. 

Holiday pay: Review your holiday pay policy to make sure employees know the expectations for them receiving pay on holidays. Are employees required to work the day before and after or have approved vacation / PTO to receive pay? If an employee must work on the holiday, how are they paid (i.e., time-and-a-half, regular plus holiday pay, straight-time only)?

Be conscious of employees who are having a hard time: Realize that some employees may have a harder time during the holidays. Maybe they recently lost a family member or are having financial difficulties or are far away from their family. Be conscious of those employees and, while you don’t have to do something special for them, know that a little kindness or outreach may make a huge difference.

If you need help navigating the obstacle course of the holidays, we’re here to help you. And from your team at Affinity HR Group, we wish you a happy and safe holiday season!


By Paige McAllister, SPHR, HR Compliance – Affinity HR Group, Inc.

Paige McAllister is a contributor for Affinity HR Group, Inc., NAWLA’s affiliated human resources partner. Affinity HR Group specializes in providing human resources assistance to associations such as NAWLA and their member companies. To learn more, visit


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