If you have owned your own business for any length of time, you probably know that the holiday season normally brings with it a number of employment-related issues that can put a damper on an otherwise festive season.  These issues tend to rear their ugly heads at the holidays because normally employees take more time off of work, and are less focused on the work and more focused on the holidays.  Below are some of the most common legal issues employers tend to face over the holiday season, and ways you can combat those issues.

Holiday pay.  Typically, employees want paid time off for the holidays.  There are currently no federal or California laws requiring that private employers provide paid holiday leave.  However, many businesses do provide paid leave or allow employees to take vacation time around the holidays.  If you choose to offer that benefit, it should be a written policy and applied consistently.

Employees who are considered exempt (salaried) must continue to receive regular salary during any business closings that last less than a full week.  Therefore, if you choose to close your business for four days over Christmas, you must still pay your salaried employees.  In addition, in California, non-exempt workers (hourly workers) must be paid time-and-a-half if they work on Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s Day.

Break times.  For many sectors, especially the retail sector, December can be overwhelming with an extraordinary volume of customers.  However, no matter how busy you are, employees are required by law to be given breaks.  Under California law, non-exempt (hourly) workers must be given a 30 minute meal break if an employee works more than five hours in a workday, also in addition to 10 minute breaks for every four hours worked.  The rest breaks should be in the middle of the work period, if possible, and should be paid.  If an employee works over 10 hours in one day, the employee is entitled to a second meal break.  An employee can choose to voluntarily waive those breaks, however if they choose to do so, make sure they agree to it in writing.  There are exceptions to the rules above for certain industries, for example, health care and manufacturing.

Employees not performing their work.  Employees often get distracted during the holidays, and may be less productive – particularly if they have a desk job with a computer, they might use for holiday shopping.  By law, an employer is allowed to monitor what an employee does on his or her work computer.  If you believe your employee is spending most of his or her work hours on unrelated things, you may want to monitor the computer usage, and provide a warning.  If, however, the employee is a valued employee, this is not a frequent problem, and he or she is still getting the work done, you might want to disregard the issue.

Employees working after hours.  A completely opposite problem is that many non-exempt (hourly) employees choose to check work emails from home while they are off work for the holidays.  If they do that and you allow it, those employees are actually working, and you are responsible for paying them.  You must create a way to calculate and compensate employees for their time working.  If you do not wish to track those hours and compensate employees, it’s important to restrict employee access to emails after hours.

If you are an employer in the Oakland-San Francisco area and need a little guidance on employment-related issues over the holiday season, call Micha Star Liberty, Oakland employment law attorney at 510-645-1000.  She can help.  Call today to learn more.

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