Are Employers Required to Pay Holidays?

are employers required to pay time and a half on holidays

Many employees understand they have a legal right to minimum wage, regular meal breaks, and overtime. However, when it comes to national holidays, employees’s rights are often less straightforward. Employees frequently ask: Is asking me to work on a holiday legal? Are there any federal holiday pay laws? Are employers required to pay time and a half on holidays? 

Let’s answer some of an employee’s common questions about their rights to holiday benefits. We’ll address some myths around holiday pay and explain why not all employees should expect it. 

Is It Legal to Work on a Federal Holiday?

A federal or national holiday is a day recognized by the U.S. government for its historical or cultural significance. The holidays recognized by the federal government include:

  • New Year’s Day—January 1st,
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day—the third Monday in January,
  • Presidents Day (Washington’s Birthday)—the third Monday in February,
  • Memorial Day—the last Monday in May,
  • Independence Day—July 4th,
  • Labor Day—the first Monday in September,
  • Columbus Day—the second Monday in October,
  • Veterans Day—November 11th,
  • Thanksgiving Day—the fourth Thursday in November, and
  • Christmas Day—December 25th.

Government offices and post offices are closed these days, and almost all federal employees aren’t required to work. 

Many private organizations and businesses close or reduce their hours on federal holidays. However, no federal law prohibits private employees from working on national holidays. 

Additionally, California law doesn’t require private employers to close businesses or give employees a day off for any holidays, including Sundays.

Are Employers Required to Pay Time and a Half on Holidays?

Generally, no. 

Sometimes, federal government employees can be asked to work on a public holiday. If so, they may be entitled to holiday pay, which is often paid at the overtime rate. 

In some states, private employers may need to pay employees at their overtime rate if they’re scheduled to work on certain holidays. However, this is not the case in most states, including California.

According to California state law, employees are entitled to overtime—i.e., time and a half—only when an employee works:

  • More than eight hours in a workday, or
  • More than 40 hours in a workweek.

So, if you’re a private employee in California asked to work on July 4th, you can only get overtime if your shift extends beyond eight hours or pushes you over 40 hours for the week.

In some situations, employees can even receive double overtime or twice their regular rate. However, this is only available when you’ve worked:

  • 12 or more hours in a workday, or
  • Eight hours on their seventh consecutive day in a workweek.

California’s overtime wage laws only apply to nonexempt employees. Exempt employees don’t have the right to overtime pay.

Private employers can also choose to pay employees overtime for working on holidays. This is often the case in industries that can’t afford to close on holidays, such as restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, and hospitals. In these situations, time-and-a-half pay can incentivize employees to work a less popular shift. 

Does My Employer Have to Give Me PTO on Holidays?

No. Paid time off (PTO) on holidays is generally a discretionary benefit employers can choose to extend to employees. 

However, many private companies in California provide PTO on holidays as a benefit to employees. They may do this to:

  • Attract and retain workers,
  • Demonstrate respect for cultural or religious diversity,
  • Promote employees’s work-life balance,
  • Enhance their public image, or
  • Boost employee morale.

Your employer should detail their policy on holiday benefits in your offer letter, employment contract, or employee handbook. 

When Are Employers Required to Pay Holidays?

Private employers are only required to pay employees on holidays if they promise holiday pay in:

  • An employment contract, or 
  • A collective bargaining agreement.

If your employment contract states that you’re entitled to holiday pay, but you don’t receive it, your employer is violating California law. In this situation, you can file a complaint with the California Labor Commissioner’s Office, which may investigate and penalize your employer. You can also file a wage lawsuit to hold your employer accountable and potentially recover some of your owed compensation. 

Do I Have to Work on Religious Holidays?

Employees can request time off from work to celebrate religious holidays. However, your employer doesn’t have to pay you for that time off unless they’re bound to do so by an employment contract.

Federal and state law requires private employers to reasonably accommodate employees’s religious beliefs or practices. Unless it’s an undue hardship on the business, employees should be allowed to alter their work schedule to observe religious holidays, which can involve temporarily switching shifts or taking time off of work. 

If your boss consistently denies requests for leave for religious observance, they could be breaking state and federal anti-discrimination laws. 

Can My Employer Punish Me for Asking About Holiday Pay?

No. It’s illegal to retaliate against employees who inquire about their pay, discuss wages with coworkers, or file a complaint about withheld compensation. Retaliation happens whenever an employee faces backlash at work for exercising a legal right, such as the right to ensure they’re making a fair wage.

The most obvious form of employer retaliation is firing someone for asking about holiday pay benefits. However, any adverse action an employer takes against an employee can potentially qualify as retaliation, including:

  • Demotion,
  • Passing someone over for promotion,
  • Withholding favorable shifts or assignments, 
  • Negative performance reviews, and 
  • Harassment.

Contact a California employment lawyer immediately if you’re being punished for asking about your wages. 

Starpoint Law Can Help You Understand Your Rights

Navigating wage laws can be confusing and overwhelming. Employers are rarely straightforward about your legal rights to pay and employment benefits. It is often easier to trust your boss and not ask questions. However, ignorance can have a significant cost when it comes to your livelihood.

The employment attorneys at Starpoint Law have spent years helping California workers ensure they’re paid fairly under federal, state, and local employment laws. We understand that many employees feel intimidated asking for legal help.

We offer free one-on-one consultation services for employees with wage-related concerns. Our skilled advocates can help evaluate your situation and answer your questions. If your rights are violated, we can also help you understand your options for taking action to recover the compensation you’re owed.

Where You Can Find Our Sherman Oaks Office

Author Photo

Aidin Ghavimi

Aidin is a partner at Starpoint LC, Attorneys at Law, and focuses on personal injury and employment law cases in and around Southern California. He earned his Juris Doctorate from the Loyola School of Law and his Bachelor’s from USC. Aidin’s primary goal is to bring justice to his clients and to ensure they are able to move on with their lives after a serious injury.

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