It is officially holiday season and any HR employee will likely tell you it is not the most wonderful time of the year for them. Time off requests for holiday gatherings, cold and flu season in full swing and navigating the sometimes-treacherous waters of a company party all make for a stressful time of year for human resources folks. Add in a global pandemic, and I’m sure some are highly considering spiking that eggnog. Now is a time for HR teams to be prepared and proactive to avoid HR drama and headaches post holiday. With a little planning and some well-written policies, the seasonal stress can be kept to a minimum. Here are a few ideas to make the end of 2020 a little easier.

  1. Review your policies. When is the last time you looked at your company’s time off policy? Are you following the provisions to the letter or is it a loose interpretation at best? Often, a written PTO policy was drafted long before anyone who works in the HR department’s time. It may not reflect current time clocking practices (i.e. if you converted from a punch clock to electronic time management) or chain of command (i.e. requests being processed by a “department manager”—a position which no longer exists). Take this time to review and update your policy to make sure it matches your actual practice and procedures. Discrepancies can cause an issue if, for example, an employee claims they were owed more vacation than they received, or you want to enforce a call-in policy against an employee who is abusing the system.


  1. Consider COVID. Will you have temporary policies in place regarding travel or gatherings in the time of COVID? Many people normally travel for the holidays and, given cheap airfare and that Christmas and New Years are weekend-adjacent this year, that could be even more tempting. Will you enforce work-from-home or quarantine restrictions for your employees who fly over the holidays? What about those who stay local but have all their cousins and extended family over? Either situation could drastically increase your employee’s chance of contracting the virus and subsequently spreading it to your workplace. Be extra vigilant in cleaning and symptom monitoring after each holiday and emphasize the importance of staying home if showing any symptoms. A current list of symptoms from the CDD can be found here.


  1. Train your employees. Whether or not you make drastic revisions to your policies, be sure your employees are well-versed in the company’s expectations when it comes to time off requests. Send out an email or memo. Perhaps you can provide a lunch for people to eat in their offices and have them watch a brief training video along with the normal holiday greetings. Remind them how decisions will be made if two or more employees ask for the same days off—is it based on seniority? First come, first serve? Lottery? Something as simple as circulating a Holiday Time Off FAQ sheet this year could prevent a lot of problems.


  1. Look to the future. Now is the time to plan ahead. How will your business stay open if you have a COVID exposure event that wipes out a significant portion of your staff? Are you able to contract with a short-term staffing company to keep the ball rolling? Do you need to be cross-training existing employees to cover other roles? Could you implement an A/B team schedule? Will you allow working parents to flex their start/stop times to balance teaching obligations if schools shut down again? Have discussions about these issues now and put plans in place to make crisis management as smooth as possible if and when that time comes.


There’s no doubt the holiday season is shaping up to be a challenging one this year, but taking the time to prepare can make all the difference. As always, if you have any questions about how best to implement these suggestions or need help drafting or revising a policy, don’t hesitate to reach out to the employment law team at Goosmann Law Firm!



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