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Posted by: Jena McGregor on December 23, 2008

Many people aren’t. And not just because it’s the day before Christmas Eve. A growing number of companies have planned holiday shutdowns—some paid, others not—for the two weeks around the holiday. According to human resources consultancy Watson Wyatt, the percentage of companies implementing holiday shutdowns grew from just 6% in October to 13% in December as the economy worsened. Another 5% are planning one in the next 12 months, up from 2% in October.

The range of companies implementing holiday shutdowns is wide. United Technologies aerospace unit Pratt & Whitney is forcing 1000 of its Connecticut hourly paid employees to take an unpaid day on Christmas Eve. Dell is having workers take up to five additional days of unpaid leave to save costs. And Chrysler is implementing the mother of all holiday shutdowns, extending its scheduled two week plant closures to a month.

I spoke with human resources and employment law experts about the topic recently. Jason Zickerman, president of the small and medium-sized business network The Alternative Board, says many companies find that employees respond well to such shutdowns if they’re communicated well and done in an attempt to try and avert layoffs. Because some shutdowns allow employees to use vacation time, or merely extend paid vacation time (but still mean savings for the company on, for instance, building energy use) some employees see them as a perk. “It shows the staff that you’re really fighting for them,” Zickerman says. Another innovative trend he’s seen some employers do in an attempt to avoid layoffs is to lend employees to other firms. While most companies are cutting people, there are still “some companies who need seasonal help, and you may be able to fit your employee into another organization.”

Garry Mathiason, a senior partner at Littler Mendelson, the world’s largest employment law firm, says he’s seen more companies do holiday shutdowns, too, but notes this is something he sees in every recession. “Probably the difference is that what might have been just a few days is all of a sudden a full week,” Mathiason says. “It’s one of those strange times of the year when you can do that.”



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