Is It Illegal to Work Employees on Holidays?


Contrary to what many workers believe, employers do not have to give time off for federal holidays or even give employees premium pay for working on a holiday. The Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA) establishes rules and regulations for employers concerning most working conditions; however, the law does not mandate time off or extra pay for holidays.

Federal Laws

No federal law requires employers to excuse employees from work on holidays. In fact, employers aren’t required to provide any employment benefits at all; however, most do because they use benefits as a recruitment tool. Just because there are federal holidays doesn’t mean employers have to give that time off to employees. Likewise, there are no state laws that mandate time off for holidays. The only employees guaranteed time off for holidays are workers in the public sector -- federal and state government employees.

Holidays as Benefits

Although employers aren’t required to grant time off for holidays, they use holiday pay, vacation and sick time as recruiting and retention tools. Employers are much more competitive when it comes to recruiting and retaining the best talent if they provide a comprehensive benefits package. Granting time off for holidays is also a goodwill gesture employers extend to employees. Employers who demand that employees work every holiday probably don’t enjoy high levels of employee morale.

Human Resources Best Practices

Human resources best practices recommend granting holiday time off for purposes related to recruiting talent, retaining valuable employees and demonstrating ways to improve employees’ overall well-being through rest and relaxation. Certain businesses, however, must be staffed on holidays. Nurses and other hospital employees, firefighters and police officers work in industries that require coverage during every holiday. All employees may not be required to work every holiday. The most effective way to decide who gets time off is to utilize a bid process for granting employees time off. Employees with greater seniority or employees who make early requests for time off may be granted the holiday off. In exchange, employees whose requests can’t be granted or employees who volunteer to work on holidays usually receive an alternate day off or some form of compensatory time.

Religious Observance

In some instances, however, requiring employees to work on a holiday is an unlawful act. Employers who require that employees work on certain religious holidays are violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when an employee notifies the employer that she must have time off for religious observance. To deny an employee’s legitimate request for time off may be viewed as discrimination based on religion. There is significant case law that addresses religious discrimination and employers' refusal to grant employees’ request for time off for religious observance.

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