QUESTION: I work at a small, independent drug store. My boss has decided that we will be open on Christmas Day, from Noon to 8 p.m. I was looking forward to getting some extra money by working on a holiday (and exchanging gifts at home before work), but he tells me I’m not entitled to anything extra, unless I work more than 40 hours per week. If I don’t work on Christmas, I’ll be short a day’s pay. Isn’t Christmas a national holiday?

ANSWER: “National holiday” is a bit of a misnomer: Private employers, like your boss, can ask hourly employees to work on Christmas or other holidays, and don’t have to pay them anything extra, unless working the holiday will bump their weekly hours over 40. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) hourly workers must be paid time-and-a-half for all hours over 40 in a week, but there’s no premium for working a holiday. While most employers could, legally, ask their salaried employees to work the holiday for no extra compensation at all, they might find that policy a hard sell: Many salaried workers (especially professional and upper-level employees) expect to receive paid time off for holidays and, when they do have to work a holiday, like Christmas, to receive a day off, with pay, some other time.

Federal and state employees, and workers who are subject to a collective bargaining agreement, fare better in terms of holidays. Federal workers get a total of ten paid holidays (New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Day, President’s Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day) and Michigan government employees receive up to 11 paid holidays (they get General Election Day off in even-numbered years).

Many union contracts include at least eight paid holidays, often omitting Columbus Day and Veteran’s Day. A2015 GM/UAW Contract listed a total of 17 holidays for 2018-19!

Most private employers, for one reason or another, do give their workers a paid break on major holidays. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 77 percent of private workers are paid on holidays, receiving an average of eight holidays off each year. The downside is that 23 percent of U.S. workers receive no holiday pay – and that’s a lot of people.

The United States is not alone in letting private employers off-the-hook on holiday pay. Employers are not required to give workers paid time off on a public holiday in a handful of the world’s 21 wealthiest nations, but these few countries still require employers to give workers substantial paid leave. The United States is the only wealthy nation that does not require some form of paid annual leave. Even Japan mandates 10 days paid leave time!

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By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq.
Attorney and Counselor at Law
901 Wilshire Drive, Suite 550
Troy, MI 48084
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