All families have Thanksgiving traditions. Maybe yours includes watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, while others enjoy watching some Turkey Day football (this year’s line up included, Packers at Lions, Raiders at Cowboys, and Steelers at Ravens). Other families may fight over who gets to break the turkey’s wishbone for the chance to make a wish. Many instead choose to nap, in order to gear up for the next “big holiday” – Black Friday.
It goes without saying that the safety of both shoppers and employees can quickly become an issue on Black Friday. Crowd related injuries occur much more frequently during the holidays, especially during special sales such as those that take place on Black Friday. Try searching, “stun gun Black Friday shopper.” Shoppers are not the only ones who brave the dangers of Black Friday. The shopping mayhem puts employees at risk, too.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA), “employers are responsible for providing their workers with safe and healthy workplaces.” However, maintaining a “safe and healthy workplace” can be quite the hardship during the holidays. OSHA encourages employers to adopt a crowd management planning strategy, which should begin in advance of events. In addition to crowd management, the strategy should include plans for pre-event setup and emergency situation management.
Perhaps, though, employees need a different type of protection – protection of their holidays.
With Wal-Mart, Staples, Target and Toys R Us (plus many more) now opening early on Thanksgiving Day, states are finally starting to take note. This year, Massachusetts enforced blue laws, which prohibit stores from letting employees clock-in for work until after 12AM (after Thanksgiving is officially over), which meant that Massachusetts residents waited until at least midnight to take part in Black Friday shopping. Missouri and Alabama state employees had the day after Thanksgiving off as well.
Even so, about 1 million Wal-Mart workers worked over the Thanksgiving holiday. As a consolidation prize for actually working on Thanksgiving, Wal-Mart workers received “a nice Thanksgiving dinner at work” and extra “holiday pay.”
Employers realize that they are now walking a very thin line when it comes to making employees work on Thanksgiving. Wal-Mart offered the aforementioned “incentives” after employees staged protests last year. Protestors were not only unhappy with being forced to work on Thanksgiving, but also demanded higher wages, better hours and benefits, as well the right to speak up about such issues without fear of retaliation.
Perhaps state legislators need to, not only take note of the dangerousness that comes along with Black Friday sales, but also look to states such as Massachusetts when determining if it is really worth it to allow employers to force their employees to work on major holidays such as Thanksgiving. Maybe North Carolina, like Massachusetts, should ensure that employees aren’t forced to break the turkey’s wishbone in the Wal-Mart break room as opposed to gathering around the table at home with friends and family.
* Caitlin S. Hale is a second year law student at Wake Forest University School of Law. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, with a minor in Communication Studies, and received a certificate of technical and professional writing and communication from East Carolina University. Upon graduation, she intends to practice labor and employment law.