United States: Total Eclipse At The Job: You Need This Advice More Than Ever

Last Updated: August 19 2017
Article by Richard R. Meneghello and Travis W. Vance

Next week, many Americans will witness a truly astronomical phenomenon: a total solar eclipse will sweep across the country on Monday, August 21. This is the first time a total eclipse will be visible in the U.S. since February 1979, and will be the last time such an event will occur until April 2024. The path of totality will pass over 14 states, although a partial eclipse will be visible in most of the country. When you combine the rarity of the event with the wide viewing area, you have a recipe for many disrupted workplaces. What do employers need to know about the total eclipse?

In The Week Leading Up To The Eclipse

In the week leading up to the event, you can expect two things from your workforce: distracted employees, and last-minute requests for time off. How should you deal with these issues?

Distracted Workers

As with any cultural event that captures the imagination, you can bet your workers will be spending time in the week leading up to the eclipse focusing on things other than work. Whether using their work computers or their personal smartphones or tablets, your workers will be spending time researching viewing locations, travel logistics, what to expect when the sun is blotted out of the sky, and the price of eclipse safety glasses, among other things. When not on an electronic device, there is a good chance that there will be talk around the old-fashioned watercooler about all things eclipse-related. What should you do about this expected activity and any resulting dip in productivity?

The best way to think about the eclipse is to consider it tantamount to other outside events that draw mass attention, such as the Super Bowl or March Madness. Some years ago, many employers tried to clamp down on any activity that distracted from the work at hand, barring any personal internet use and strictly enforcing zero tolerance policies. Times have changed, and most employers now realize that the distraction caused by these events is a normal and relatively harmless diversion.

If there were no eclipse-related topics to distract your workers over the next week, there would still be plenty of other non-work diversions to capture their attention. Instead of looking online to buy safety glasses, for example, they would probably be shopping for back-to-school sales. Instead of plotting a long weekend getaway to better see the eclipse, they would be planning their next vacation. Moreover, most employers have found that banning any personal internet use is like playing a losing game of whack-a-mole. If you prohibit internet use on your work computers, your workers will use their smartphones; banning non-work activity on company-issued smartphones will lead your workers to use their personal devices.

The best way to approach this topic, then, is to focus on productivity and work quality. You have every right to expect a certain level of productivity from your employees, and every right to demand that their work meets your qualitative expectations. So long as they are accomplishing these reasonable work goals, you should be satisfied with their job performance. Treat the next week no differently, then, recognizing that some eclipse-related conversation will draw your workers away from their work on an occasional basis.

Obviously, however, you have every right to prohibit excessive internet usage or undue work time spent chatting about personal matters, and are completely warranted for warning or disciplining those who violate your rules. So long as you consistently apply your policies, you should not run into legal hot water. Moreover, if job-related reasons compel your employees to remain 100% focused on the job during all working hours, you can and should require your workforce to save their eclipse-related activities until they are off duty.

Requests For Time Off

Tens of millions of Americans live in or nearby the eclipse's path of totality, but there will be many who wish to venture out on the road to get a better look. Even some workers who live or work very close to the path of totality might want to be relieved of work responsibilities for the day (or part of the day) to enjoy the eclipse and any associated festivities. What should you do when these employees approach you and ask for time off?

Let's start with the premise that you have no obligation to grant workers time off to view the eclipse or travel somewhere to get a better vantage point. In a few extreme cases, an employee might claim that their religion requires them to miss work that day, but those will be few and far between (and might require a call to your legal counsel to discuss your obligations on a case-by-case basis). In the vast majority of situations, you have no legal responsibility when it comes to granting time off, and any employees given the day off will receive the benefit as a workplace privilege, not a right.

So what should you keep in mind when you receive such a request? For starters, consider your business needs on the day in question. If you work in an industry that expects a spike in business due to eclipse-related tourism (restaurants, hotels, grocery and other convenience stores, gas stations, etc.), you should plainly communicate to your workers that their help will be required and that time off cannot be granted. The same holds true if you have a time-sensitive project or other business need that cannot be ignored that day.

If you have some leeway in granting time off, make sure you apply your policies consistently. Granting some requests while rejecting others could lead to claims of workplace bias, so make sure you are following your consistent policies and practices to avoid any claims of favoritism or bias. Also, review any applicable collective bargaining agreements to ensure you award time off work in accordance with applicable rules.

Overall, keeping morale high is key to employee satisfaction and retention. One of the best ways to engender a satisfied feeling among your workers is to keep an open line of communication. If you need to deny requests for time off, explain your rationale. Your employees might not be happy with your decision, but at least they will respect you for communicating your reasons, and they won't feel like you pulled the rug out from under them. Another way to foster morale is to offer an eclipse-related event on the day of the eclipse for those employees unable to take the day off. Which leads us to...

The Day Of The Eclipse

Astronomers are able to predict with a precise level of accuracy what we can expect on the day of the eclipse in terms of timing, duration, and effects (see this detailed interactive map that displays information specific to your zip code). But what can you expect at the workplace? Here are three things to keep in mind:

Eclipse-Related Office Event

As noted above, for those workers forced to work on August 21, you may want to consider organizing an office event during the peak of the eclipse. After all, although the effects of the eclipse will linger for several hours in many areas, the anticipated totality event will last mere minutes. The majority of businesses can spare this brief amount of time for their workers for the sake of office morale.

Just as with organizing a March Madness office bracket tournament or a Super Bowl party, you may want to consider planning an event where employees can socialize with one another in the run-up to and during the eclipse. NASA has put together a website with party planning suggestions that might be of interest to employers.

Eclipse Safety

Of course, if you are going to organize an eclipse viewing event, you need to ensure that proper safety protocols are followed. Looking directly at the sun is unsafe except during the very brief moments when the sun is totally obscured by the moon. For this reason, special-purpose solar filters – usually called "eclipse glasses" – are an absolute must. Another option for safe viewing is using the pinhole projection method.

NASA's website also describes best safety practices; you should review the page in advance of any work event that you organize. You may also want to share this information with employees who will be performing outdoor work on August 21.

If you have employees who operate mobile equipment outdoors – whether a company car, forklift, or some other vehicle – remind them of the dangers of distracted driving. Viewing the eclipse while operating heavy equipment is dangerous and could result in an accident. In may be prudent to place a moratorium on outdoor driving during the peak of the event.

Finally, ensure that all employees who work outdoors on elevated surfaces are provided with all required fall protection equipment and reminded of the importance of "tying off." Workers on rooftops or exposed platforms are likely to be distracted during the event, which may result in trips or falls. 

AWOL Employees

Finally, just as the sun will disappear on August 21, you should expect any number of your employees to do the same. Unscheduled absences will most likely occur in high numbers that day, including from some workers who come down with a mysterious one-day "eclipse flu." How should you handle these situations?

You should revisit the various methods employers have at their disposal to combat intermittent family or sick leave, given that many of the same principles might apply to this situation. These include scrutinizing the original medical certification, requesting recertification when permitted, seeking second opinions, closely tracking all absences, and following up on suspicious circumstances. Conveniently missing work on the day of eclipse due to an "illness" – especially if the employee's request for the day off was denied – can be considered an unusual circumstance the same way that frequent Friday-Monday absences deserve special scrutiny.

Finally, if the employee does not blame a sickness but simply takes an unscheduled personal day without following your company notification protocols, your task is to apply your policies in an even-handed manner. If you have disciplined others for doing the same thing, you should feel free to do so in this instance. However, if you have previously turned a blind eye where employees don't follow your call-in procedures to the letter or otherwise take personal time off without advance notice, you may run into legal trouble if you try to drop the hammer come August 22.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Richard R. Meneghello
Travis W. Vance
 
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.

Disclaimer

Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.

Registration

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.

Cookies

A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

Links

This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.

Mail-A-Friend

If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.

Security

This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.