View all Articles

Total Solar Eclipse: Once In a Lifetime Workplace Considerations

If you were not already aware, the once-in-a-lifetime cosmic event of a total solar eclipse will cross North America on Monday, April 8th, darkening the skies for a few short minutes. The path of the eclipse makes landfall in Mexico, entering the United States in Texas at 12:23 p.m. CDT, and traveling through Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine ending at 4:40 p.m. EDT. Because of this rare cosmic event, people will be traveling in from all over the country, flocking to the path of totality for the opportunity to view the total solar eclipse. Areas that are in the path of totality or operate near it will see a massive increase in visitors which will have an impact on employers such as traffic concerns, attendance issues, safety concerns, and even religious accommodation requests. Employers should make plans to proactively address potential issues and communicate expectations with employees to minimize disruptions to the workplace.  

The following are some key considerations for employers ahead of the event. 

Attendance 

Because the eclipse is happening on a weekday, some schools in the path of totality have closed in anticipation of the event. Employers should anticipate an unusually high number of time-off requests due to wanting to participate in the event and childcare concerns. Employers should follow their standard policies for granting time off and managing unplanned absences uniformly. If possible, consider allowing employees to work remotely for the day to help minimize time-off requests. If absences may create operational difficulties, consider communicating with employees in advance about how the absence policy will be enforced in light of the celestial event.  

For those employees who come into work as scheduled, employers may anticipate a dip in productivity while the eclipse is happening as employees will likely want to participate in the viewing of this extraordinary event. The entire event lasts no more than three hours, and the totality is less than three minutes. That being said, employers should be ready if substantial numbers of workers intend to pop outside for a few minutes to watch the eclipse unfold. Consider embracing the event as an opportunity for employee engagement and morale boosting. You could hold a voluntary viewing party by supplying certified eclipse viewing glasses and providing food to make it a fun team-building event. 

Safety 

Directly viewing the Sun is hazardous except during “totality,” a brief period when the Moon completely covers the Sun’s bright surface, occurring only along a narrow path. Outside of totality, it is only safe to observe the Sun through specialized solar filters meeting specific transmittance standards. Ordinary sunglasses will not suffice, but affordable “eclipse glasses” are widely accessible. Employers should educate their staff about this safety concern to prevent permanent eye damage. Moreover, employers could face workers’ compensation claims for injuries sustained during company-sanctioned eclipse events. Providing eclipse glasses for employees, particularly if encouraging them to take a break to witness the phenomenon, is advisable. 

For employers, whose staff will be driving or working outdoors during the eclipse, whether total or partial, it is essential to provide guidance on how to manage sudden darkness and related conditions. Additionally, employers should assess whether critical deliveries might be affected by potential traffic or logistical challenges. Considering their needs leading up to that week, such as scheduled meetings or deliveries, is crucial. Can employees reach their destinations on eclipse day? Can conflicts be rescheduled? Employers should treat the eclipse like inclement weather and devise contingency plans accordingly. 

Religious Accommodations 

The total solar eclipse is an awe-inspiring event. Those lucky enough to be in the path of totality will experience a 360-degree sunset in the middle of the day, with shadows appearing from every object, the temperature will drop, and animals may begin acting strange, all leading up to total darkness for a few minutes. It is no wonder this powerful experience may hold religious, cultural, or spiritual significance to some. Employers should be prepared for some employees to request a religious accommodation to attend the event.  

Under both federal and state law, employers are required to accommodate an employee’s sincerely held religious practice or belief, unless doing so would pose an undue hardship on the employer. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) emphasizes that protected faiths extend beyond mainstream religions to include newer, less recognized beliefs held by small groups or individuals, even if they may seem unconventional to others. Thus, it is crucial to recognize that while an employer may not perceive a link between the eclipse and religious beliefs, an employee may genuinely perceive one. Consequently, employers need to proceed cautiously when handling requests for religious accommodations related to the solar eclipse. 

How HR Works Can Help ​​​​​​

As your partner at HR Works, we can offer tailored guidance on handling time-off requests, implementing remote work options, and communicating attendance policies effectively. We can provide expertise in managing productivity expectations during unique events like the eclipse, including strategies for maintaining workflow continuity and employee engagement. 

We are also able to advise employers on navigating religious accommodation requests related to the eclipse, ensuring compliance with federal and state laws; offer insights into assessing undue hardship and facilitating accommodations while maintaining workplace harmony and inclusivity; and provide resources for fostering open dialogue and understanding between employers and employees regarding religious beliefs and practices. 

Current HR Works clients may contact their HR Works Strategic Partner and Virtual Helpline subscribers can contact the helpline at hrhelp@hrwork-inc.com or 1-888-668-1271 for additional assistance. Non-HR Works clients who would like to learn more about these services and how to leverage our compliance expertise and support, may contact us at info@hrworks-inc.com or call 1-877-219-9062.  

HR Works, headquartered in Upstate New York, is a human resource management outsourcing and consulting firm serving clients throughout the United States for over thirty years. HR Works provides scalable strategic human resource management and consulting services, including: affirmative action programs; benefits administration outsourcing; HRIS self-service technology; full-time, part-time and interim on-site HR managers; HR audits; legally reviewed employee handbooks and supervisor manuals; talent management and recruiting services; and training of managers and HR professionals.