Holiday celebrations, what is ok and what is not

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Q:  When is a holiday not a holiday?  I supervise a small team of employees.  Our company has floating holidays, which employees can use for holidays on which we are open.  Sometimes I think they make up holidays to take days off because I have never heard of them.  Do I have to approve holidays when they don’t sound legitimate?

Question marks?


A:  Many companies offer floating holidays to employees.  Usually, there is a fixed number of holidays for employees to use for holidays which the employee on days when the employee may celebrate but the company is open for business.  Floating holidays are often available at the beginning of the calendar year.  Generally, an employee must request the day off in advance and a supervisor approves the day off.  Full-time employees usually receive pay for the day.  Sometimes part-time employees can also request a floating holiday but often it is unpaid.

Employees can use them for holidays like Good Friday, Chinese New Years Day, Diwali, Ramadan, Rosh Hashanah, Veteran’s Day or similar.  I advise to our clients, who offer floating holidays, to interpret and approve these requests with little scrutiny.  I recall many years ago, an employee requesting to take Earth Day as a holiday, because the employee led a community-based effort in their hometown focused on cleaning up a local park.  While Earth Day is not a religious or cultural holiday, this event was important to this employee.  I think it was the right decision to approve this employee’s request to take the day off.  The employee was featured in the local paper and the employer was praised as being supportive of the employee’s interest in the community.

We all have different priorities, interests, cultural and religious celebrations.  Sometimes the traditional calendars don’t reflect all of these passions, events or holidays.  It is better to err on the side of generosity here versus questioning an employee’s religious or cultural beliefs.  Additionally, most employers struggle with staffing during the more commonly celebrated holidays so this may work to your benefit.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.