If you haven’t already been bombarded with news of the upcoming August 21 solar eclipse—which will be a partial eclipse in New England (about 60%) and a total eclipse for people living in a narrow cross-country band from Oregon to the Carolinas—the Moon will soon be in the Sun’s house but we don’t know if Jupiter will align with Mars.
Employers may also be faced with another kind eclipse on Monday, with employees blocking all the light from their windows as they look out to observe this phenomenon. Strange and wondrous occurrences like this do affect the workplace, creating staffing and safety issues. Here are a few things for employers to consider as we await the eclipse.
- Be prepared for more employee requests for time off. The eclipse will occur on a Monday, which is a workday for many people so be prepared for employee requests for the day off, possible no call/no shows, and even requests for brief periods of non-work time to view the eclipse. Ensure employees know that your normal absence and time off request and reporting procedures apply. If you want employees to view the eclipse, consider how best to staff, including allowing employees brief paid breaks and taking turns. For your non-exempt staff, breaks of 20 minutes or less should be paid. In addition, fairness and consistency are important practices in allowing time off.
- Be prepared for possible religious accommodations such as a request for time off due to religious beliefs. Title VII and some state laws require accommodating employees for religious beliefs, including time off. Religion is defined broadly under Title VII and employee requests for accommodation to attend religious services or engage in religious activities must be accommodated unless the employer can show undue hardship. Employers should pay attention to whether requests for time off are based on religious reasons.
- Depending on your business, you may also have a need to increase staff—especially if you are in the business of selling solar-related equipment or are somehow promoting the event, such as an eating or drinking establishment.
- If you have drivers, think about the impact on the roadways and safety issues, including possible accidents due to distracted drivers (including your employees). Consider scheduling around the time when the eclipse will occur or having employees pull off the road during peak periods.
- Educate employees on the hazards around viewing the eclipse. To protect employees, especially those who work outdoors, give direction on safety practices including making them aware that looking at the sun during the eclipse, even with regular sunglasses, can cause eye injuries. Discuss with employees or consider offering safe options such as using special solar filters or a pinhole viewer.
Having a plan to handle these staffing and safety issues will help employers and employees be more prepared for this special event. For more information on the eclipse see the NASA total eclipse website, which will include live coverage and information on safe viewing practices, weather, and traffic issues.
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