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With Veterans’ Day this week, and Thanksgiving and Christmas just around the corner, it’s likely employees will be looking to take some time off for the holidays. For those wondering what the law does and does not dictate for federal and religious holidays, we’ve put together a quick and easy guide to address some of the common holiday labor law misconceptions:
I am entitled to at least some federal or religious holidays
Sadly, the law views holidays as just another business day, so whether or not you have to work is entirely up to your boss’s discretion if you work for a private company. Holidays like Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, MLK Day, and Christmas are referred to as “federal” holidays precisely because they apply to employees of the federal government, so those who work for private entities may find themselves out of luck.
While many private employers offer some or all federal holidays off as an employee benefit, there is no law requiring them to do so.
Working on a federal or religious holiday means I’ll get paid overtime rates or premium pay
Although holidays can often be busy, straining times for workers in a variety of industries (and typically retail in particular) and might seem worthy of overtime rates, the unfortunate reality is that 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.
Like usual, 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.
Curious about labor law compliance? Check out our State-By-State Compliance Guide to learn more specifics for your state.
My holiday time off should be paid
This one depends. If you’re a nonexempt (hourly) employee, then your employer has no legal obligation to pay for time off on a holiday.
For exempt (salaried with no overtime) employees, your employer has to pay you your full weekly salary if you are given a day off, but have worked any hours during the week in which that day off falls.
It’s illegal for my company to give holiday benefits to some employees and not others
This one, too, is sadly not true. As long as this difference in holiday benefits isn’t based in discrimination, then a company can legally give some employees holiday benefits, and not others.
For example, a company can choose to have holiday pay for only full-time employees, and not for those who are part-time or contract.
My day off still counts toward my overtime calculation
If your employer gives you paid holidays, then they don’t have to count the paid hours as hours worked when it comes to determining whether or not an employee qualifies for overtime compensation.
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 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.