Engage News

What to Keep in Mind for Holiday Parties and Office Closings

By Jay Starkman and Vanessa Matsis McCready

Reported in the Business Journals

With the traditional holiday months come company parties, shifting vacation schedules and office closings. Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind:

Office closings

When making closing decisions, employers must be cognizant of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and state wage and hour laws.

Non-exempt employees. Under the FLSA, non-exempt employees are paid for the time they work. However, local laws may require additional pay in certain circumstances.

Exempt employees. Exempt employees are treated differently under the FLSA. Exempt employees who perform any work during the work-week must be paid their salary. Here are some additional considerations:

  • Early closing: If an employer chooses to close early for a holiday and exempt employees are ready, willing and able to work, they must be paid for the day.
  • Inclement weather: If exempt employees come in late/leave early due to weather, they must be paid for the day.
  • Full day closings: If an employer chooses to close for a day, exempt employees who have performed work during the week must be paid for the day.
  • Full work-week closings: The FLSA defines a work-week as seven consecutive 24-hour periods. If an employer closes an office for a full work-week and the exempt employee does not perform any work during that period, then he/she does not need to be paid for that work-week. For example, if an employer's work-week is Tuesday to Monday, the office would need to be closed Tuesday and re-open the next Tuesday for this exception to apply.

Holiday parties

The holidays are a time for celebration. Some tips for planning the holiday or annual party:

Keep the festivities holiday neutral. It is better to have a "holiday party" than a party that recognizes any specific religious holiday.

Keep attendance voluntary. Required attendance may expose your business to a host of FLSA and state claims. If year-end awards or bonuses are to be distributed at the party, employees may infer that they are obliged to attend.

Be careful with alcohol. It can lower inhibitions and lead to questionable judgment, which can be an unfortunate combination.

  • If alcohol is served, consider hiring a professional bartender, using a drink ticket system and/or ending service early.
  • Provide a selection of non-alcoholic beverages. Food should also be available.
  • Arrange for company-paid transportation for those who cannot safely drive. Consider sending a memorandum beforehand stressing that everyone should drink responsibly, but if needed, the company will provide transportation from the party for anyone who cannot safely drive.

Keep it clean. Keep the entertainment professional and non-controversial.

Managers on duty. Remind managers to lead by example and enforce company policies at the party, regardless of when or where it is.