4 Misconceptions About Federal and Religious Holiday Labor Laws

Planning on taking some time off for the holidays? Make sure you’re clear on what the law allows and what your employer allows. The following will hopefully clarify some misconceptions about vacations, religious and federal holidays, and the labor laws surrounding them:

Misconception 1: My Employer Can’t Make Me Work on a Federal and Religious Holiday

Federal holidays are public holidays declared by the country’s federal government and recognized by law (Federal Law – 5 U.S.C. 6103). These holidays are paid holidays for many employees, and many non-essential offices remain closed. However, legally, employers are not required to give their employees time off during federal holidays. Furthermore, employers are not required to pay their employees if they grant them the day off. 

Sadly, the law views holidays as just another business day, so whether or not you have to work is entirely up to your employer’s discretion if you work for a private company. Holidays like Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, New Year, Labor Day, Independence Day, Juneteenth, MLK Day, and Christmas are referred to as federal holidays precisely because they apply to employees of the federal government. The other holidays are usually floating holidays where employees can decide whether to take the day off or not.

While many private employers offer some or all federal holidays off as an employee benefit, there is no law requiring them to do so.


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Misconception 2: If I Have to Work on a Federal and Religious Holiday, Then I Get Paid Overtime Rates

Employers that close on federal holidays are not required to pay their employees for the day off and those that remain open are not required to pay their employees overtime. Holidays are generally considered regular working days and employees receive their usual pay. 

Unfortunately, federal holidays don’t have any special designation for overtime pay and working on a holiday is not considered overtime. In other words — regular overtime rules apply since the law treats federal holidays as just another business day.

If you qualify for overtime pay and you work over 40 hours during the week of a federal holiday, then you are entitled to “time and a half” pay for the hours worked over 40. If you work in Alaska, California, Nevada, Puerto Rico, or the Virgin Islands, then you can calculate your overtime based on a daily standard (rather than weekly) — anything over eight hours in a day qualifies for overtime pay. Colorado also has a daily overtime standard, only higher — anything over 12 hours in a day qualifies.

Misconception 3: My Employer Is Required to Offer at Least Some Paid Holidays

Technically, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers are only required to pay for time worked. Even if they give you time off for religious or federal holidays, they aren’t legally required to provide any payment for those days.

That being said, many businesses do have company policies that allow for a certain number of paid vacation days as an employee benefit.

federal holiday

Misconception 4: Failing to Accommodate My Religious Practices Is Religious Discrimination

This one can be tricky — while a failure to accommodate religious practices does at times qualify as religious discrimination, there are some notable exceptions.

In general, you can ask for a “reasonable accommodation” if you let your employer know ahead of time that there is some conflict between your religious observances and your work schedule. Your employer must then find a way to eliminate this conflict between religious and work obligations, provided this doesn’t impose an “undue hardship” on his or her business. An “undue hardship” is vaguely defined as “an accommodation that is too costly or difficult to provide,” and in the past, it has been interpreted to mean anything from an increase in regular administrative costs to anything that reduces workplace efficiency.

Instances of religious discrimination are typically determined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on a case-by-case basis but know that there’s a chance your employer doesn’t have to accommodate you if undue hardship can be proven.

Is the Employee Entitled to Holiday Pay?

Federal law does not require employers to pay employees on holidays, except if the employee actually works on the holiday. In cases where the employer closes for a holiday, employees are not entitled to holiday pay. However, that changes when an employee actually works on a holiday, like Independence Day. As a result, the employer is required to pay the employee for the time worked. Holiday pay may also be required if the employer has a policy or contractual agreement that pays employees holiday pay.

It is important for employers to establish a neutral system for reviewing requests. The decision on submissions could be based on seniority or the date they were received. Employers might consider offering flexible timing, voluntary shift swaps, make-up time, or floating holidays if many employees want to commemorate the same religious holiday. In addition, employees could use their accrued paid time off. If there is no paid leave available, the employer could offer workers time off without pay.

Wrapping Up

Employers should accommodate employees who wish to fulfill their religious obligations, such as taking a day off for a religious holiday. It is an employer’s responsibility to accommodate an employee’s request for time off for holiday observance. When employees request leave to observe cultural or religious holidays, it’s common practice to approve them. It is important for employers to establish a neutral system where they can review all their leave requests and offer floating or accrued paid time off to employees. 


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Sathya Gajendran


Sathya Gajendran

Sathya is an Assistant Content Marketing Manager at Replicon. She is a tech enthusiast who loves to learn about new, emerging technologies. Replicon provides award-winning products that make it easy to manage your workforce. With complete solution sets for client billing, project costing, and time and attendance management, Replicon enables the capture, administration, and optimization of your most underutilized and important asset: time.

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