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What every employee needs to know about holidays

Published On: Nov 11 2013 11:15:50 AM CST
Updated On: Nov 11 2013 11:18:35 AM CST
office holiday party workers in Christmas hats

iStock / Alija

By attorney Donna Ballman, Special to THELAW.TV

As Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day approach, I get questions about legal holidays off, whether employers must pay for holiday time, and whether employees who work on holidays are required to be paid overtime or double time. I thought I'd touch on some of the biggest legal questions I get about holidays.

If it's a legal holiday, isn't my employer required to let me take off?

Many people think that employers are required to grant holiday time off. This is completely untrue. No federal law requires employers to grant any days off. If you have an employment contract or union collective bargaining agreement requiring holidays off, then the employer must give you the time off. Some government employers are legally mandated to shut down over certain holidays (other than for essential personnel).

If I have the holiday off, does my employer have to pay me?

If you are exempt from overtime, then the law does not require your employer to pay you for any holidays you have off. The answer is different for exempt employees. If an employee is exempt from overtime, part of the deal is that they are paid a salary. Department of Labor regulations say, "An employee will not be considered to be 'on a salary basis' if deductions from his predetermined compensation are made for absences occasioned by the employer or by the operating requirements of the business. Accordingly, if the employee is ready, willing, and able to work, deductions may not be made for time when work is not available." If your employer deducts holiday time from your check, they might lose the exemption and have to pay you overtime.

Am I entitled to extra pay for working on holidays?

The Fair Labor Standards Act requires no extra pay for working on holidays. If your holiday work doesn't take you over 40 hours in your work week, you don't have to be paid overtime. Many people lose their jobs over the holidays by insisting the law requires payment of double time for holidays. This is simply incorrect. Certain government contractors and government entities may be required to pay extra for holiday work. Some union contracts and employment agreements also require extra pay for holiday work. In general, you are out of luck if your employer doesn't want to pay you extra for working holidays.

Religious accommodations

Many holidays are also religious celebrations. If you need a holiday or other day off due to your religious beliefs, you should request an accommodation from your employer. Allowing a day or days off for a religious holiday or the Sabbath is generally considered a reasonable accommodation under Title VII, which requires employers to respect employees' religious beliefs. Your employer can only deny the accommodation if they can show that it would be an undue hardship to grant the accommodation. This law also only applies to employers with 15 or more employees, although some state and local laws cover smaller employers.

Company events

While you don't have to be paid for attending a company holiday party that is not mandatory, if all employees are expected to attend, then you may be entitled to be paid for your time attending an office holiday party. If you do attend a company event, please remember that your boss and coworkers expect you to behave professionally. Letting your hair down, drinking too much, sexually harassing coworkers, and bad behavior result in many post-holiday firings.

Now you know your rights and responsibilities so you can enjoy your holidays without losing your job. Happy holidays!

The author, Donna Ballman, is an employment attorney in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and author of "Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired."

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