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HR’s problem with Black Friday

Tuesday 24 November 2015

Black Friday has historically been one of the most important days of the year for the US retail sector and over the last few years the UK has adopted the same frenetic excitement in creating an assembly of hungry bargain hunters determined to bag those cheap televisions and game consoles. 

This year’s annual stampede occurs on November 27th, swiftly followed by Cyber Monday a few days later. Despite the huge sales taken during these periods it can create a staff nightmare for employers. It even resulted in 2008 of the trampling to death of a WalMart employee in New York during a stampede of Black Friday shoppers. 

Employers not only have genuine health and safety concerns they are also experiencing a huge influx of holiday requests for the day off. The demand has left managers fearing they will be short staffed, and office productivity will be low with those in work surfing the internet instead. 

Traditionally HR departments have been able to plan around the more traditional holiday periods through operating clear procedures of when and what number of staff can take holidays around certain statutory holidays, such as bank holidays. 

Recently employees have requested the date of Black Friday off which has resulted in employers being left short staffed and / or left with staff surfing the internet during work time. To combat this issue, HR policies should reflect the organisation’s position on when leave can be taken and if there are restrictions around certain dates of the year. 

Organisations are able to refuse leave but must have justifiable reasons for doing so, and clearly outlining these in their staffing policies will enable them to enforce this. Similarly, the IT policy should also reflect the organisations position on employees accessing the internet during the day and also around specific events. These issues can be prevented from manifesting into disciplinary action if policies and procedures are fully up to date and address problems of this kind.                                       

Another issue that HR departments have to deal with involves the potential threat of industrial action around Black Friday. Trade Unions are very strategic in when they intend to strike, targeting specific times of the year which would cause the most disruption. 

Black Friday has appeared on the radar of unions and is now seen as a strategic date for their members to down tools. Combating this is not as simple as having effective HR policies and procedures but would involve innovative approaches to employment relations. Giving staff members longer lunch breaks or extra days off if they work on Black Friday have proven to encourage union members to veto any calls to strike.        

Black Friday is here to stay in the UK and it is for the HR department to embrace the positive effect it can have on an organisation through planning ahead, consulting with employees and ensuring appropriate policies and procedures have been implemented.    

By Jonathan Lord: Lecturer in Human Resource Management and Employment Law at the University of Salford

*Image taken by Cristiano Betta