It’s the most wonderful time of the year – unless you happen to be working for an employer with a Scrooge-like heart and disdain for holiday pay. You just might find yourself working Christmas without so much as an extra candy cane to show for it.
The bad news is that there’s not much you can do about it. Generally speaking, employers are not required to offer paid holidays to their workers – whether it’s Christmas, the Fourth of July or any other federally recognized holiday. Nor do they have to pay overtime if you work a holiday, unless the time you put in is beyond your normal 40-hour work week.
The good news is that many employers apparently don’t want to play the role of a Grinch.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 75 percent of the civilian workforce, or about 116 million people, receive paid holidays. In private industry, 77 percent of workers receive the benefit, while 67 percent do in state and local government.
The chances are not nearly as good if you are among the lowest paid workers. Only 40 percent of people in the lowest 10 percent of the workforce based on average wage receive paid holidays. It’s 53 percent for those in the lowest 25 percent.
Overall, the split is not that different between union and nonunion workforces, with 79 percent of union members receiving paid holidays and 75 percent of nonunion, according to the bureau.
Kyra Kudick, an associate editor at J.J. Keller & Associates, a compliance resource company, said being of good cheer can help in both recruiting and retaining employees. “Workers who feel valued and have a work-life balance want to stay with their employers,” she said.
But Kudick, who specializes in employment law and human resource issues, including employee relations, hiring and recruiting, said for the most part employers can be as generous or as stingy as they want to be.
“They really can set their own requirements,” she said. “With very, very few exceptions, an employer does not need to provide holiday pay on federally recognized holidays.”
Exceptions include union contracts. Some states also may restrict the number of hours an employee can work on a holiday, Kudick said.
No federal law requires an employer to offer paid holidays or overtime to those forced to work a holiday as long as they are not working more than 40 hours that week, said Sam Cordes, a PIttsburgh employment attorney.
Typically federal and state laws come into play only when employees are required to work more than 40 hours a week, he said.
For those who offer paid holidays, the means can vary.
Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on Sundays this season, for example, so some employers will offer the Monday following both as a paid holiday. Others may offer a “floating” holiday that the worker can use at another time.
Employers also have the right to decide whether to close or stay open on a holiday. But giving last-minute shoppers a place to grab that forgotten gift or replacement battery means that for some workers, “I'll be home for Christmas” will be more wistful refrain than fact. And employers can treat a holiday just like any other workday if they want.
In some cases they do so at the risk of alienating their employees.
“For a lot of people, holidays are very important,” Kudick said.