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Black Friday Brinksmanship: What Thanksgiving Day Store Openings Mean for Retail Employers

Written by Robert Sheridan

While most Americans will be sitting around a fire watching football with kith and kin or sleeping after a hearty meal, many retail employees will be stocking shelves and preparing for shoppers. This year, a significant number of retail employers have announced that they will open on Thursday night (yes, Thanksgiving) this year, hoping to capitalize on the Black Friday shopping craze.   These initiatives have implications for the pay practices and safety measures of these employers.

In the latest installment of the chase for the discretionary consumer dollar, several retail employers have announced that they will be opening on Thanksgiving day, some as early as 6 a.m.   To sweeten the pot for employees who work on Thanksgiving, many retailers are offering holiday pay, enhanced store discounts and meals.  Furthermore, many unionized retail employees receive holiday pay pursuant to contract.  Retailers who offer (or are contractually obligated to provide) holiday pay to employees who work on Thanksgiving must be sure that their payroll systems properly capture this time—because undoubtedly, employees who spend their Thanksgiving at work will be keeping a close eye on their pay checks to make sure they receive their promised pay.

Proper payment of employees is not the retailer employer’s only concern for Black Friday—crowd control and worker safety should be at the forefront of retail employers’ Black Friday plans.  To that end, stores who stock this year’s Tickle-Me-Elmo, or just anticipate a rush when they open their doors, need to review OSHA guidelines and crowd control protocols.   Retail employers’ best defense against crowd nightmares and potential tragedy is to educate employees about proper crowd control techniques well before the Black Friday rush.   Last year the U.S. Department of Labor issued a news release that provided helpful tips to retailers preparing for Black Friday.

While many retail employers incentivized their workers through holiday pay, other retail employers have decided to buck the trend and will remain closed on Thanksgiving.  Time will tell whether economic determinism will force more and more stores to open on Thanksgiving or whether the pendulum we swing back towards keeping Thanksgiving sacrosanct.

With that, we wish a Happy Thanksgiving to all our readers and their families.

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David Barmak

Member / Chair Emeritus, Employment, Labor & Benefits Practice

David Barmak is an experienced trial lawyer at Mintz who focuses his practice on employment law and HR issues. He litigates cases in federal and state courts and arbitrations across the country. David counsels clients on compliance and employee relations issues and risk reduction options.