- The Washington Times - Monday, December 22, 2003

Many area employers are giving their workers an extra gift this holiday: back-to-back four-day weekends to close out the year.

Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on consecutive Thursdays, so many employers are closing their doors the Friday after Christmas, and some are closing Jan. 2.

About 1,145 employees at the Washington-area offices of Big Four accounting firm KPMG LLP get to take off at noon for their four-day holidays early on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

“It’s really been a great morale booster and nice way of the partners appreciating all our work,” said KPMG spokeswoman Samantha Baxter.

President Bush issued an order last week closing all federal government agencies — with some exceptions — on Dec. 26.

Last year, Mr. Bush gave federal workers a half-day off for Christmas Eve, which fell on a Tuesday. Those workers were back on the job Dec. 26.

This year, federal workers must return to their jobs on Jan. 2.

Discovery Communications Inc. will close its Silver Spring headquarters for Dec. 25, Dec. 26, Jan. 1 and Jan. 2, said spokeswoman Pat Lute.

“It’s probably the first time we’ve given the day after New Year’s off, but with that day so close to the weekend, it didn’t make sense to have operations come back in on a Friday,” she said.

While the main office will be closed, most of the 2,000 employees there, especially those in production, are on call for emergencies, Ms. Lute said.

Arlington hotel-management company Interstate Hotels & Resort Inc. is letting its 250 employees take off early in the afternoon on Christmas Eve and return Dec. 29.

“We have a floating holiday that we tack onto the Christmas leave if it falls on a day like Thursday or Tuesday,” said spokeswoman Melissa Thompson.

Many businesses are adding on the extra day as appreciation for employee dedication after two economically grueling years, said John Challenger, chief executive officer for Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., a Chicago outplacement firm that tracks workplace trends.

“A lot of companies are struggling now to keep up with the surge in demand for their services, but more will likely give those days off,” Mr. Challenger said.

But not all workplaces are jolly with holiday leave.

Some federal workers, such as U.S. Postal Service employees, will be back at the office Friday. The Defense and Homeland Security departments also will partially staff some offices for security reasons.

Sharon Friedman gives her 85 employees at the Mental Health Association in Montgomery County a “shopping day” and a $35 certificate to make up for not having traditional holiday leave.

“We try to be flexible with our workers all year long because we are on call during lots of undesirable times” like the holidays, said Ms. Friedman, the association’s executive director. The Rockville association receives a larger demand for its counseling services during the holidays, especially for depression.

Performing-arts centers tend to increase their shows and activities in the next two weeks, said Theresa Cameron, executive director for the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County, a Bethesda organization that represents 450 local arts groups.

“Now is a real money-making time for them,” she said. Most performing-arts entities, except for movie theaters, are closed on Christmas. However, arts foundations will work around-the-clock to get last-minute donations before the end of the year, Ms. Cameron said.

Most banks in the area will follow the Federal Reserve and operate business as usual the day after Christmas. The Community Bank of Northern Virginia, a Sterling, Va., banking company, will close early on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, and close for the federal holidays.

“But after that, we operate on our normal schedule,” said spokeswoman Lisa Benjamin.

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